Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Vulnerable: East- West

Dealer: South


7 4

K J 10 3 2

A K 5 2

A 6


8 6 5 4

10 8 4 3

K J 10 4 3


A K J 10 3

9 7

9 6

Q 8 5 2


Q 9 8 6 5 2


Q J 7

9 7


South West North East
2 Pass 4 All pass

Opening Lead: Club jack

“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

At last year’s Gold Coast Tournament the field reached four spades in today’s deal, generally on an attacking club lead. Declarer wins and immediately plays three rounds of hearts. What should East do?

At one table East pitched a diamond; Steven Burgess threw his club and advanced dummy’s spade four. When East played low, so did declarer! Contract made, but the defenders could have prevailed by playing either a high or medium trump.

At another table the winning defense of ruffing with the spade jack was found. Declarer could overruff and go to dummy with a diamond to play a top heart. But East could pitch his diamond and retain control. The position transposes into the same variations as at Burgess’ table.

What if East had ruffed trick three low? Declarer overruffs, crosses to a top diamond, and leads a master heart. If East ruffs with the 10, declarer overruffs and crosses to a diamond to lead the fifth heart and pitch his club. If East ruffs high, declarer pitches a club, losing just three trumps total. Best is for East to pitch a diamond on the heart. Declarer throws his club away and leads a trump from dummy, which East wins to return a club. Declarer must ruff with the eight or nine, then lead a diamond.

Now when East ruffs and returns a club, declarer ruffs low in hand and overruffs in dummy. The lead of the master heart lets South discard his last diamond for a trump coup at trick 12.


South holds:

7 4
K J 10 3 2
A K 5 2
A 6


South West North East
1 1 NT Pass 2
ANSWER: Although West may hold diamonds, he might equally well have club support, and your side might be able to compete in either red suit. As basketball coach Jimmy Valvano said, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up!” Compete with two diamonds and keep the auction going. You’ll be surprised at how many good things can happen.


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


jim2May 7th, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I admit to being old-fashioned, but I would never have opened 2S with the South hand – too many points and too poor a suit.

The bidding might have gone:

1S – 2H

2S – 3D

3H – 4H/3N


Ten tricks are simple in either 3N or 4H.

bobbywolffMay 7th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Hi Jim2,

You are right about the problems associated with choosing to open 2 spades because there are too many outside points and not enough suit texture in spades.

Yes, opening 1 spade is better than passing, not that opening 1 spade is to be recommended, mainly because of not having enough hand (playing strength), but also because of lead considerations with your shabby suit.

At least to me, pass is my 3rd choice behind the other choices discussed above.

Being NV and dealer, and in spite of the previous admonitions, I would opt to throw my hat in the ring and open 2 spades.

Strange and sometimes wonderful results materialize in front of our very eyes when all that bidding space is taken away, especially when the opponents are responsible and ethical bridge players. True, opening a weak two on such a poor suit, and with defense and support for other suits, is courting poisoned flowers to take root, but all I can say is that experience, or at least mine, suggests that bid as my partnership’s best percentage move.

When playing against less responsible and ethical players, it won’t work as well, but I will always prefer to give bridge a vote of confidence and do what I firmly believe is make the best bridge bid.

Bid em up initially and let your opponents sleep in the streets.

As a sidebar, while both 4 hearts and 3NT are, as you say, markedly superior contracts, still 4 spades figures to make and NEVER forget that bridge is not as scientific as many of us would like it to be and we all should not fixate on results but rather accept bridge as it really is, an educated guess, with plenty of room for numeracy and competitive game talent to rise to the top.

John Howard GibsonMay 7th, 2011 at 5:43 pm

HBJ : I do not understand North’s bid at all. Firstly, his support in spades is particularly weak ( small doubleton ), unless he envisages that one of them can be used to ruff clubs.

Secondly, there is no reason to presume South hasn’t any hearts. Three to the queen would be wonderful news to North.

Thirdly, if South has clubs as a second semi-decent suit, then 3NT becomes a much better bet.

So why then did North by-pass all these possible options by taking a leap in the dark. So what if the majority of the field did end up in 4S, because I bet most of the others got there after exploring ( and rejecting ) these other game possibilities (4H/3NT).

But there again who I am criticise people who play at this level ?

jim2May 7th, 2011 at 6:11 pm


I look forward to our host’s response but I, personally, consider North’s jump to the game reasonable, since an 8-card fit has been identified. Also, one principle I was taught was that, in the case of roughly equal trump fits, the one with the long suit in the weaker hand generally played better.

Nonetheless, if a pair were playing something like Ogust responses, then the bidding might have gone something like:

2S – 2N

3D (or another response showing max hand with poor suit)

What North would do with that information is a good question, but either 3N or 4H would both land the partnership on their feet.

If the 2N bid requested a feature, North would hear 3H from South, and might well decide 4H could be better.

bobbywolffMay 8th, 2011 at 11:37 am

Hi HBJ and Jim2,

In response to your important and always topical query about why spades and why not either hearts or NT on the subject hand let us together try and establish reasons.

First, this was a real tournament hand, played by experienced, competitive above average players in real time to a normal bridge beat.

Just like the 2 spade opening is flawed, so is technically the 4 spade response, but, however, though flawed, was not necessarily the wrong bridge bid. The main reason for opening 2 spades rather than only 1 or alternatively passing originally, was to attempt to preempt the opponents rather than to anywhere near perfectly describe our 13 cards.

Obviously, sometimes our actions, though well-intended, do not turn out successfully, which possibly lays the foundation for failure together with the partner’s choice of jumping to 4 spades with only 2 small.

Sometimes, by jumping to a final contract, based on a scarcity of science works well in securing a more favorable opening lead from opponents who do not have the advantage of overhearing a bidding exchange which might pinpoint the best opening lead for the defense, such as clubs in this particular hand.

Without belaboring this point and over explaining why not we just leave it at that. However, never forget the caveat which should jump out at us about the game of bridge is that in attempting to not disclose and, by experience, guess the final best contract, although most of the time, well intended, sometimes backfires, but what else is new?

Before closing, it is necessary to say, that every once in a while (methinks more often than suspected) the opponents may even venture into the bidding over this 4 spade bash, usually making the gamble for the preemptors in this case, well worth while.

In any event, including the process of writing up interesting real life hands in a bridge column, bridge goes on, daring all devotees a challenge of impossibly trying to make perfect a game which absolutely refuses to even come close to conquering.

For further evidence, I recommend for all doubters to get copies of the World Championship hands played by worthy competitors over the last 50+ years (readily available), and after careful analysis and patient understanding, with a desire to not be result oriented, possibly dare to say that anyone ever can really come close to mastering our game.

HBJ and Jim2, your probing questions help bring opinions to light, which can only serve to foster positive and improved thinking by all who choose to get involved.

BenMay 9th, 2011 at 11:59 am

About bid with the aces :

In a competitive auction, facing a passed partner, I thought bidding a second suit described 5+ cards (unsuitable for a Michaels).

What do you think of this convention ? Wouldn’t it be better to double 2C (negative double, describing 5H/4D) ?

Then, partner’s decision will be easier (and I’d be happy if he passed for penalties, East being 1=4=3=5 for instance).

bobbywolffMay 9th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Hi Ben,

First, thanks for the probing question, inviting a sophisticated answer, which, in turn, may throw some light on why certain aspects of bidding, this time as a defensive interloper, have developed the ways they have, especially in the high-level world.

Assuming that your question applied to the above hand, May 7th: xx, KJ10xx, AKxx, Ax and hearing your RHO open the bidding 1 club. Overcalling 1 heart is a standout choice since, because of the shortness in spades this hand does not fit either a takeout double nor a Michaels cue bid which would show both majors.

When LHO then responds 1NT and after partner passes, your RHO (the opening bidder) corrects to 2 clubs, showing a minimum opening bid, a rebidable club suit, and probably a slightly unbalanced hand. Bid with the Aces then recommends a 2nd bid of 2 diamonds with your hand.

Because of the limited nature of both of the opponent’s hands, your partner figures to have a smidgen of values, not long in clubs, obviously not enough to support hearts, so therefore having a fair chance to have 4 diamonds.

To now double instead, like you suggest, is better reserved for classically a 3-6-3-1 distribution with at least a king better than a normal overcall and a corollary motive to put both unbid suits (spades and diamonds) into the mix, just in case partner is short in hearts (void, one or perhaps two) and at least five and maybe six in one of the unbid, pointed suits).

Most every bidding sequence possible in bridge, including competitive ones, is almost always a little different. Here the NT bidder will usually be balanced, including at least 2 clubs and likely more, allowing for possible length in other unbid suits in partner’s hand.

A caveat to remember: When first venturing into the bridge world it sometimes is (at least seems to be) a daunting task to tackle bridge logic (particularly bordering on high-level), but the good news is, that once on that narrow path, the game gets easier with every passing learning experience and with patience and enthusiasm will soon become old hat and quite easy to figure out for yourself. The end result is limitless in satisfaction and enjoyment and I, for one, heartily recommend it.

Good luck, at least for now, but with determination by you, the luck will take care of itself.