Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, May 6th, 2011

Vulnerable: North-South

Dealer: South


A 8 7 5

Q 2

8 6 3

A K 9 7


Q J 10 2


Q J 7 5 4

Q 4 3


K 4

J 9 5 4

A 9

J 10 8 6 2


9 6 3

A K 10 8 7 6

K 10 2



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

Opening Lead: Spade queen

“We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence.”

— Charles Darwin

The trump coup is a way to recover from a bad trump split by reducing your own trumps. Consider declarer’s line from a match between two U.S. teams in a recent Bermuda Bowl — and what the defense might have done about it.

Declarer for the USAII team ducked the top spade lead against four hearts. West now led a diamond to East’s ace and East continued the suit. Declarer won his king, then drew two rounds of trump to find the bad news.

The winning line is now to cash the top clubs (pitching a diamond), ruff a club, then go to the spade ace to ruff a diamond. Declarer exits with his spade loser at trick 11 and is left with the A-10 of hearts for the last two tricks.

In fact, declarer tried to ruff a diamond at trick six before ruffing a club, and East, Nick Nickell, astutely pitched his spade king. Nickell could now ruff away the spade ace, leaving declarer with a spade loser at the end.

Even if Nickell had reverted to spades at trick three, thus removing an entry from dummy, declarer could still have succeeded by playing three rounds of clubs at once, then cashing the diamond king and drawing two trumps to finish in dummy. Now declarer ruffs another club and exits with his spade loser, taking the last two trump tricks.

A spade continuation at trick two might have been more challenging, but declarer could still have prevailed with perfect play.


South holds:

A 8 7 5
Q 2
8 6 3
A K 9 7


South West North East
1 2 2 3
3 Pass 4 Pass
ANSWER: Your nonforcing three-spade bid showed 12-14 points and three or four trumps. Your partner’s cue-bid then suggested slam interest and short diamonds — improving your hand. In context, you have a moose. Cue-bid five clubs now and consider whether you have enough to move on to slam, even opposite a sign-off in five spades. The answer may depend on how much you trust your partner!


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 19th, 2011 at 5:35 pm

On the bidding quiz, I am discouraged somewhat by South’s shape, as it makes me wonder where 12 tricks would come from.

Give North a real good hand:

S KQJxx or S KQJxxx or S KQJxxx

H Axxx H KJx H Axx


C xxx C Jxx C xxx

On a different matter, you have mail.

bobbywolffMay 19th, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Hi Jim2,

Your comment sheds light on a technical approach worth knowing and therefore respecting.

From the opener’s view:

1. Partner’s 2 spade bid is forcing and therefore unlimited.

2. Although, only having a minimum opening bid, especially a balanced hand, but holding 4 card trump support, the bid chosen should be thought of as an underbid, at least at this point it does not look especially encouraging and yet there is potentially a lot of water which still can flow under the bridge (pun not intended).

3. Your bid of 3 spades is not forcing and if partner has slightly stretched: KQJxxx, J10x, xx, Qx or KQJxx, Axx, Qx, xxx he should not continue on, but rather just pass.

4. Once you raised by making a NF 3 spade bid, you have relinquished the captaincy of the hand to partner, since your hand has been fairly closely defined, but partner’s original 2 spade effort is unlimited except for promising at least 5 spades and a minimum of about 10 points,

counting distributional values.

5. When partner now cue bids 4 diamonds, he guarantees slam interest and, in spite of your minimum raise should be well aware that you are limited and that he was permitted to pass.

6. Early bridge textbooks led us astray when they suggested only that the partnership usually requires about 26 points to make 3NT or 4 of a major, 29 points to make a minor suit game and 33 points to make a small slam.

They should have then gone on to say that those above point count requirements are based generally that with each number, there will usually be wasted values, not pulling any or much weight, therefore needing only about 21 useful points to make a major suit game, 24 useful points to make a minor suit game and only about 27-28 gold edged points to make a small slam.

I have intentionally left off NT contracts since, although there is some connected relevance, judgment is quite different, requiring all taking tricks and no ruffing values.

7. On our example hand, partner’s cue bid, especially after the opponent’s have overcalled the suit and been raised, immediately should whisper to us that this is going to be a great fitter, since all of our values are going to be working, e.g. the 4th spade,

as well as your other 3 high cards and your doubleton heart instead of having 3 hearts and only 2 diamonds.

8. Another way of expressing it is to say: Your hand should never be generally classified as good or bad, it only, instead, should be updated to then be classified as excellent, good, average, fair, or poor depending on how the bidding has gone. Your hand, at least at this point has gone from average to excellent once partner cue bids. Remember if you had held 5 clubs and one less spade or especially one less heart I would recommend a 4 spade bid, not giving partner a chance to pass 3 spades.

The real good news is that you representing the rank of private to your partner’s captaincy on this hand, should not worry about what hands your partner can have, since they are almost infinite in possibility. All you want to do is quantify the questions asked by partner with your choices being to return to 4 spades, cue bidding hearts (which would be inaccurate) or cue bid 5 clubs which should be your choice. If partner then returns to 5 spades you should pass, but then if he recues 5 diamonds, then I think 6 clubs should be bid rather than a heart cue bid or too wimpy a return to 5 spades. Also with certain hands, Axx, Kx, xx, AJ10xxx as an example, I would merely jump to 6 spades, holding 2nd round control of hearts and extra playing strength in the form of 6 clubs. Since partner knows that you should not have the Ace of hearts, by your choosing to cue bid clubs skipping hearts he will not have any illusions about your heart holding.

9. To all very bright, but relative beginners to high-level bridge the above concepts are necessary to be firmly understood before any complicated discussions should be made regarding the delicate meanings of choice of options by the player who has relinquished captaincy.

10. Please do not consider the above as any form of preaching, but rather only attempting to delve into the bridge mindset required to get there from here.

jim2May 19th, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Oh, I would bid 5C. I was simply expressing doubts that the slam it looked like the partnership was tumbling down the slope to would be a success.

Trade the QH for the QC or upgrade it to the KH, and I would be far more optimistic.

In any of those three hands I posited for North, slam looks inevitable after 5C and it will not make.

bobbywolffMay 20th, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Hi Jim2,

You are, of course, correct in that your three posited hands all come up lacking to make 12 tricks in spades.

My view is that, only your 3rd example, should risk the result from your decision to cue bid 4 diamonds. Contract bridge is not now, nor has it ever been an exact science, and the trouble with dealing with that fact sometimes depresses most qualified players. Please note on all three hands presented, they had a likely losing 3rd club, pinpointing what the opener needed to cover.

As some famous bridge experts have oft times proclaimed that “bridge is a partnership game” and right they are. However, having said that, both partners must always carefully consider exactly how the bidding has gone up to the zero hour of taking a make or break action, eg, in the subject bidding sequence, 4 diamonds.

Both partners must always take as gospel their partner’s entire body of bids and thusly carefree or sometimes which could be described as callous actions can never be passed over as “ho hum”.

High-level bidding is probably not as difficult as many wannabes might think it is, but rather the discipline of making accurate, totally realistic choices, will usually turn out to be the hard part.

Top level partnerships, like love was to Romeo and Juliet, or the business of warfare is to Navy Seal teams is the goal without which all bridge dreams will end at approximately second base, rather than touching home plate.