Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dealer: South

Vul: Both

J 7 3
9 7 2
A Q 6 4
West East
4 9 7 6 5 3 2
8 2 Q 10 9 6 5
K Q 10 6 4 3 J
J 9 7 5 8
Q 10 8
A K 4
A 8 5
K 10 3 2


South West North East
1 NT Pass 4 NT All Pass

Opening Lead: King

“Now is not the hour that requires such help, nor those defenders.”

— Virgil

There is nothing more embarrassing than to go past game while exploring slam, stay low for safety, and still go down. To avoid that embarrassing fate, you will need to play today’s contract of four no-trump carefully.


North’s four-no-trump bid is a natural if slightly pushy slam invitation, which South should pass with his 16-point minimum. A 4-3-3-3 distribution is always a negative, and although the controls are good and you have two 10s, that is not quite enough.


It can do no harm to duck the opening lead of a top diamond, but you should win the second diamond. Once East shows out, the only reason to duck would be to tighten the position for a squeeze, and that seems somewhat unlikely today.


The right thing to do next is to test clubs by playing the ace and queen. Deep down you know that if anyone is long in clubs, it MUST be East, so you should arrange to finesse against that player. But lo and behold! It is West who has length in both minors.


When East shows out on the second club lead, your 10 presumed winners have shrunk to nine. But by cashing the top spades and hearts, you can force West to discard two of his good diamonds or unguard the clubs.


Then you can lead a diamond, forcing West to lead a club into your tenace and giving you the game-going winner in clubs.

ANSWER: You have a very good hand, but while you may want to play in game, which is the right strain? The best way to show your values is to bid two clubs, a cue-bid showing a heart raise, planning to follow up over a minimum continuation from your partner with a bid of three no-trump, suggesting that you have a good hand with the black suits stopped.


South Holds:

J 7 3
9 7 2
A Q 6 4


South West North East
  1 1 1


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 2009. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


bruce karlsonApril 21st, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Another infuriating hand!!! It requires counting one suit, making a reasonable plan an not giving up when that plan fails. Hardly a heavy lift, but it would go off a trick many more times than it made in most club games. Further, I am not certain that I would be one of the few…

It is interesting, however, that gratuitously ducking the openig lead twice seems to spike the throw in.

bruce karlsonApril 21st, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Regarding Bid with the Aces: Swap the heart 3 for a diamond 3 making the hand 3,2,4,4, I would still cue bid clubs. Would I be misleading partner into believing I had 3 hearts along with a game going hand??

Bobby WolffApril 21st, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Hi Bruce,

Whenever all of us hear from you, much bridge thought is stimulated and your two comments on this hand and BWTA do not disappoint.

Yes, while playing the subject hand, it is certainly prudent and normally necessary to duck the first diamond, but after East shows out on the 2d diamond there is almost no reason to duck that trick. Probably only a heart club squeeze could be set up by ducking a 2d diamond and since East not West would certainly be the intended victim, that would be nullified by 4 clubs to the Jack being easily determined, then picked up by the possession of the club ten by South. Making the right winning diamond play could be called correct technique, which is an advantage picked up by at least a working understanding of the development of tricks and the experience of having seen it happen.

The unusual nature of what happened (4 clubs being in the hand with 6 diamonds instead of the 4 clubs being in the other hand) should be immediately mentally recorded and thus the path to the right declarer’s play should soon become apparent. Two factors remain: 1. Remove West’s other 3 cards (the 3 he possesses other than diamonds and clubs) by leading out your high hearts and spades, 2. Make sure you, as declarer watch and since this hand is easier than most, all that needs to be done is make sure that West does not throw a club away. Once he doesn’t (and why would he?) all that needs to be done is then at trick 10 lead a diamond from whatever hand you happen to be in and presto, changeo West after cashing 1 more good diamond will be forced to lead a club at the death into your waiting K10, 4NT making!

It appears to be some kind of bridge magic, but in reality, a bright 8 year old who has grown to like both card games and arithmetic (aren’t there at least some of them around?) could effectively execute what is necessary.

Fast forwarding to the BWTA hand, the specific hand discussed, is as you suggest a “slam dunk” in cue bidding first and then upon hearing a minimum response of 2 hearts from partner jumping to 3NT to offer partner a choice between the two game contracts of 3NT or 4 hearts. However, if instead the partner of the 1 heart overcaller had only a doubleton J of hearts, but instead held 4 diamonds to the 9 (instead of only 3) what then should he do? The answer is somewhat in the gray area and should be a matter of partnership discussion. One partner may ask, “Would you ever have only something like Jx in partner’s suit to bid that way?” The answer could be either yes or no, but in order to be thorough it could then eventually be agreed that to jump to 3NT after cuebidding would show 3 hearts, but when holding only 2, then a second cue bid, in this case clubs, would indicate more judgment is necessary so that even if partner now signs off at 3 hearts a bid now of 3NT by the cue bidder would show only a doubleton heart in support. Of course, never forget that an original jump to 3NT by the partner of the 1 heart bidder does not imply any specific number of hearts and could theoretically be made with a void in hearts, Kx, void, AKQxxxxx, KJx.

In conclusion, it is not so necessary as to exactly what the bids should show, but rather that both partner’s would agree as to what their specific partnership should mean by their bids.

If the reader than starts to suspect, that in order to play top flight bridge and compete against the world’s best their partnership with accurate and well worked out understandings will stand toe to toe with 2 even greater players who do not have as precise a partnership. When that happens, my money, regardless of nationality of the players, would always be bet on the hard working partnership.

I apologize for my wordiness but as usual Bruce, you touched a soft spot.

bruce karlsonApril 22nd, 2010 at 11:26 am

Thank you for your detaled (not wordy) response.

Absent a specific agreement, most of the unwashed would “read” a cue bid followed by a jump to no trump as DENYING 3 hearts. As with other grey area bids, your comments point to a way to determine partner’s hand pattern without sacrificing anything but a few extra cranial synapses.

Few partnerships use all the bidding space available and usually land in the correct contract anyway. “Usually” becomes a bridge narcotic and is butressed by the rest of the room doing the same thing!!! It is taking the time to check rather than blasting to 1430 or 3NT that separates the constant winners from the rest of us.

I do not now have a regular partner and am looking. When I find one, the conversation will, hopefully, be less about esoteric conventions and more about agreemets such as the BWTA hand.