Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dealer: South

Vul: All


A 9 3 2

9 4

A J 6 5 2

8 3


J 10 8 5

Q J 10 7

9 7

Q 10 4


K 8 6 2

Q 10 8

K J 9 6 5 2


K Q 7 6 4

A 5 3

K 4 3

A 7


South West North East
1 Pass 3 Pass
4 All Pass    

Opening Lead: Q

“Life is a foreign language — all men mispronounce it.”

— Christopher Morley

Sometimes the secret of when not to finesse is based on tempos, rather than endplays. In four spades today you might make 12 tricks with only a modicum of luck. However, as you might expect, you will not be receiving much in the way of good breaks today!

Declarer won the heart lead and played the trump king, discovering the 4-0 break. South was still optimistic that all would be well and that an overtrick would roll in as long as West held the diamond queen. But when declarer played a diamond to dummy’s jack, East won with the queen and switched to clubs, dislodging the ace. Declarer drew two more rounds of trump, then played on diamonds, hoping that West would follow two more times. However, as so often happens when a hand has been misplayed, there was no reprieve. West ruffed the third round of diamonds, and the defenders took a heart and a club to put the contract one down.

Did you spot declarer’s mistake? He needed to establish the diamond suit in such a way that he could enjoy a discard before the defenders could cash out on him. Suppose he takes the diamond king and plays a second diamond, rising with dummy’s ace. He can now concede a diamond trick to East, who will no doubt clear the club suit. No problem! Declarer draws two more rounds of trump with the queen and ace, then plays a good diamond, throwing a club. West can ruff this trick, but the defenders can score only three tricks.


South Holds:

A 9 3 2
9 4
A J 6 5 2
8 3


South West North East
    1 Dbl.
ANSWER: Textbooks of old would advise you to redouble here with any nine-count. But if you redouble and hear the opponents bid or jump in hearts, you will have no idea what to do next. Best is to bid one diamond, then bid spades over their hearts, describing your hand precisely.


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


Michael SteinNovember 25th, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Dear Mr Wolff:

I seem to recall that in a previous bidding problem, you endorsed Walsh responses to 1C. What is it about the intervening double that has you preferring 1D to 1S in this case?

Also, what minimum strength should opener expect from a hand that bids diamonds followed by spades?


bruce karlsonNovember 25th, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Two comments actually:

Playing MPs or even BoM, this hand presents a dilemma not present in IMP scoring. If early in the session (no hint that you need a good board), would you take the hook at MPs?

Then, if declarer is making the safe play in diamonds, which needs a 3/2 split, should he not play a low one from both hands to guard against a stiff honor in 4/1 distribution?

bobbywolffNovember 26th, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Hi Michael,

Good questions both, especially so since perhaps others will also be interested in my attempted answers.

Yes, in unobstructed auctions it appears correct to “run to daylight” and bid a major suit first when the hand is limited, to cater to only making one positive bid, even if the bidder has more diamonds than the major, the reason being that major suit games are high on the priority list and when a hand is limited, the bidding may get up too high too fast (if and when the opponents now come in the bidding) for that hand to have the values to bid again.

However, the twist here is that RHO has barked setting up an altogether different priority, one in which redouble is used to show a good balanced hand (10+ HCPs) and mere suit calls then become according to one’s distribution. Here diamonds are longer and partner is now alerted to the new strategy. Also remember that righty may well have four cards in the subject major so it is not as likely that partner will have 4 supporting trumps for you, together with the probability that since LHO is likely to be weak, the odds are that you, the responder, will be faced with a slower developing auction.

The answer to your 2nd question depends on how high the bidding has reached, when next it is your turn to bid. For example if, after bidding 1 diamond LHO passes and your partner responds 1 heart then after RHO now passes, you should of course, respond 1 spade. Partner is now better placed to aim his response to the right trump suit (or NT) and at an appropriate level, since the whole table heard the entire bidding, including the TO double. However if the opponents intervene in hearts and partner remains silent I would not get too excited with your hand and certainly not compete in spades higher than the two level.

The conclusion, of course, is that a good partnership certainly recognizes the opponents competing and therefore gears it’s bidding toward a conservative bent, trying to find the right strain and, of course, the right level.

Nothing profound here, only bridge common sense.

bobbywolffNovember 26th, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Hi Bruce,

Sometimes I feel that we can exaggerate the difference between IMP’s and more demanding bridge scoring games such as matchpoints and B-A-M scoring. Delving further into your probing question, the only advice I can give you (others may dissect it more completely) is that if you reach what, at least looks to be the correct contract, do your best, within reason, to try and make it, even at the cost of sometimes losing an overtrick or two. In other words the worrying about some of what you mention may be paramount in the minds of mathematicians playing bridge, but the practicality of going plus is, at least to me, a greater god to please.

The above reflects my firm belief that the two other games mentioned, especially matchpoints, but even the great game of B-A-M, are bastardized versions of the real game we all love. Bridge is complicated enough without the impossible to calculate (keeping in mind the opponents bidding, reasoned opening lead, play up to then and even the tempo noticed before the opponents acted or did not) real percentages. Yes, the simple game of bridge is, IMHO far and away the greatest competitive mind game of all time, but trying to outguess the cards is just too difficult to do successfully.

Your further question concerning the possible 4-1 distribution only emphasizes the above. The answer is “NO, I would not cater to that possibility”. However your question may have caused me to reach a breaking point, beyond which my mind will not let me enter.

All in all and in retrospect, you are doing all would be excellent players a great service by bringing up these hand wringing questions and opening the door to what I think is going too far, but other experienced mentors may markedly differ with me.

Keep on truckin….