Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, June 7, 2010

Dealer: South

Vul: E/W

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


South West North East
1 Pass 2 Pass
3* Pass 3 Pass
4 Pass 4 NT Pass
5 Pass 6 All Pass
*Club fit, short diamonds

Opening Lead: Jack

“Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind.”

— Samuel Johnson

In today’s deal, North was looking for greater things, but when he discovered his side was missing a key card, he settled for the small slam. Note South’s jump to three diamonds to agree clubs. With a good hand consisting of spades and diamonds, South would have made a simple call of two diamonds, since that would have been forcing.


Now consider the hand as a play problem. If you declared six spades on the lead of the diamond jack, how would you play the hand? It looks natural to advance the spade queen, hoping to find the trumps 2-2 with the king well placed. At pairs that might even be a defensible approach. At rubber bridge or teams scoring, where the objective is to make the contract and overtricks are far less important, following that line would be a major error.


South should be aware that the chance of a defensive ruff has evaporated after the opening lead. The only danger is a 4-0 trump split. If West has the length, nothing can be done; his trump spots are just too good. If East has the length, the correct approach will be to cash the ace and lead a low spade to the jack. When East ducks, declarer will take the trick in hand and can get back to dummy with a heart to lead a spade toward his queen.


If declarer makes the right play, then whatever East does, declarer will lose no more than one trump trick.

ANSWER: It looks tempting to lead trumps to try to stop spade ruffs in dummy, but there are two flaws with this approach. The first is that the spades and clubs look to be lying so well that this is unlikely to work. The second is that leading a trump from this holding will frequently give up a trick. Instead, attack with a small diamond.


South Holds:

10 5 3
J 4 2
K 5 3 2
Q 8 4


South West North East
  1 Pass 1
Pass 2 Pass 2
Pass 3 Pass 4
All 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 2010. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


bruce karlsonJune 21st, 2010 at 11:30 am

On the bidding: Playing 2/1, any rebid by South in that auction is forcing and in Standard American, 2 Diamonds would almost never be passed. It is the “almost” that would un-nerve me as my partner could read it as 5 Spades, 4 Diamonds and 12-14 hcp and pass with a 10 pt rag with 5 Clubs, 4 Diamonds and no Spades.

Would a 2 Diamond rebid by South be forcing in a 1 Heart-P-1 Spade-P-2 Diamond sequence??

The 3 Diamond “splinter” bid in that sequence is very helpful as South cannot better describe his hand…as long as it can never be read as classic jump shift.

Bobby WolffJune 21st, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Hi Bruce,

You bring up some rudimentary, but rather crucial points.

Bridge can and should be simplified, especially for the relative newcomer, but there is only so far we can go before we encounter limits. Playing either Standard American or, of course, 2/1, a 2 diamond rebid over a 2 club response is 100% forcing. Only in the British system of Acol, which is probably the most natural system ever played, could one consider a 2 diamond rebid only 99% forcing.

However, for one to start a serious bridge partnership, probably the most important first step is to decide which bids are forcing, invitational, or limit (non-forcing). With that as a basis, most everything else should start fitting in place as the partnership begins working out the fluidity necessary to get out of the batter’s box.

On the subject hand an unnecessary jump (after going 2/1) always shows shortness (0 or 1) and a fit (4 or more) in partner’s suit. The theory for doing it is that, by doing, it is worth losing a round of bidding (caused by the jump) in order to show that important attribute. BTW, this concept is relatively new, only coming forth in the last 20 years or so, and again IMO has been an important (and now necessary) bidding improvement.

1H-P-1S-P-2D is not forcing since partner’s one spade response only promised at least 6 points wherein if he would have gone 2/1 he would be promising 12+ making the combined partnership point count worthy of 2D being considered forcing (and to at least game).

As a final point, bridge bidding has evolved with the intention of making the limited language available the most useful it can be in a bridge context. In discussing with partner always keep that in mind so that when one partner or the other suggests playing an artificial bid (one where a certain suit bid or NT means something specific) his partner accepts that you have already considered what losing the natural meaning of that bid (what used to be) is still worth doing in order to add the new, more beneficial (at least, according to you) meaning.

Getting better much faster in bridge is meant for inquiring minds, not for lazy bones. My experience has been that people who take that positive step learn to really love the game.

Your new teaching certificate is in the mail. No, only kidding. Thanks for writing.

Bob NJune 22nd, 2010 at 3:33 pm


How does the bidding show North his side is missing a key card? I assume this is the spade K.

What system are you and Bruce abbreviating ‘2/1’?

Bobby WolffJune 22nd, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Hi Bob,

Yes, the 5D response shows one key card and that missing key card could then be either the Spade King or the Club Ace.

Bruce and I are abbreviating

“2/1” to mean going to the 2 level in a new suit over partner’s 1 of a suit opening becomes, except in a few specialized instances (sometimes played differently by different partnerships), forcing to game, with the principle advantage in doing so, is for both partners to know every bid is then forcing until game in the established trump suit or 3NT is bid. Saving room to exchange information on the way to game then becomes the priority.

Thanks for writing.

Bruce KarlsonJune 23rd, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Having a “go-round” with one of my 2/1 partners about the meaning of:


Is this also a “splinter” showing spade support, short diamonds, and a decent hand (enough to make 3S with partner holding a 5 or 6 point rag)?

Sorry to beat this to death but…


Bobby WolffJune 24th, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Hi Bruce,

Until all heretofore confusing points are clear, the horse needs to take on pain.

With your example given, a 3 diamond jump rebid shows a forcing to game hand, presumably with hearts and diamonds, with quite often, but not necessarily, a side spade fit (possibly only 3).

The sequence given by you with its meaning, a splinter (short diamonds) and an equivalent raise to 3 spades is a specialized treatment, played by some, but not recommended by me. Reasons:

1. The partnership loses its necessary forcing jump to at least game, usually showing both suits.

2. In an effort to specialize a certain bid to enable a partnership to have “perfect” or nearly so judgment (but doesn’t always work out that way), the opponents are helped by being able to make more effective opening leads and rarely but occasionally being able to double the splinter (lead directing) which, in turn, might also enable them to compete in that suit for a profitable sacrifice.

Either of the above two reasons is enough for me to veto its use, but for some, it is like chocolate and vanilla, depending on what one prefers.

bruce karlsonJune 24th, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Thank you. The horse may now enjoy a respite from incessant beating.