Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Dealer: South

Vul: N-S


K 10 5 2

10 4 3 2

A K 2

J 7



Q 9 8 6 5

Q 9 8 4

Q 10 4


J 9 7 6

K J 7

5 3

K 9 6 2


A Q 4 3


J 10 7 6

A 8 5 3


South West North East
1 Pass 1 Pass
1 Pass 4 All Pass

Opening Lead: eight

“…All the words of wise men who are skilled

In using them are not much to defy

What comes when memory meets the unfulfilled.”

— Edwin Arlington Robinson

The standard of card play in today’s deal from an international competition may help explain why the two countries involved finished at the bottom of the heap.


On a 3-2 trump break there are many ways to make four spades, but trumps break 3-2 less than 68 percent of the time. Both declarers made the mistake of drawing two rounds of trump early in the play, an error from which they could not recover when they let East in with a diamond ruff and he played a third trump.


A simple count of winners should lead to the successful line: With four plain-suit winners, declarer needs to make six trump tricks. Therefore, two ruffs in hand are necessary. Whatever the opening lead (say a trump), declarer should first duck a club. He wins the return (say a heart) and now cashes the spade ace. When the trumps fail to break, South crosses to a diamond, ruffs a heart, plays the club ace, ruffs a club, then ruffs another heart. The diamond king and spade king bring the trick total to 10 (two trump tricks, four plain-suit winners and four ruffs).


Interestingly, both declarers in the match effectively took the diamond finesse. (One played the hand from North on a diamond lead; the other voluntarily took the finesse at trick two after a trump lead.) The extra trick generated from the diamonds does not compensate for the trick lost by allowing a third round of trumps to be drawn.


South Holds:

Q 9 8 6 5
Q 9 8 4
Q 10 4


South West North East
1 Pass
1 NT Pass 3 Pass
ANSWER: Three clubs is natural and game-forcing. I would bid three hearts now, natural and suggesting at least five, hoping to be raised, but planning to rebid three no-trump over three spades. Unless partner repeats his clubs, my hand does not look useful for suit play.


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 2011. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2April 7th, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I have a question on the bidding in the column hand.

If South had opened 1S, what should be North’s response?

bobbywolffApril 7th, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Hi Jim2,

If playing 4 card majors, and obviously you are (at least on this hand) I would only make a limit raise of 3 spades, allowing partner some slack for opening light.

The next more aggressive step is to respond 2 diamonds (where we live) and then over 2 spades merely raise to 3, and over 2 hearts to only bid 2 spades since, although holding 4 trumps, do not have a source of tricks (as in holding 5 diamonds). With balanced hands be a bit conservative, but with good distributional values tend to bid more, especially with good trump support because of the possibility of the opponents also being able to make something and we do not want to invite them into the auction if possible.

jim2April 7th, 2011 at 11:02 pm

That’s why I asked the question. Specifically, I would have made a limit raise with the North hand even playing 5-card majors.

Do you agree with the North raise to 4S in the column hand?

bobbywolffApril 8th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, I do. Simply because that I have a great fit opposite partner’s supposed length and from a percentage standpoint partner slightly figures to be shortest in the suit I originally responded in, hearts.

One other barely perceptible reason is that my alternative bid, only 3 spades, might suggest to partner, in making his key decision to discount his shortness in my bid suit, which is exactly the opposite of what I want him to do.

Much of the above signifies very little, but are only small guidelines in trying to break ties.

It does lead to an important caveat which is hardly ever mentioned. In a five card major system often very weak minors are opened which sometimes convinces partners to make erroneous decisions causing me to lean toward natural systems, including 4 card majors (but with certain strictures, both as to when and how) which, in effect, can be a powerful guide in exercising better judgment.