Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Vulnerable: Neither

Dealer: East


A J 3

9 7 4

K J 7 4

J 7 4


9 2

A K Q 10 8

10 5 2

Q 10 6


Q 10 8 7 5

J 6 3 2

9 5 3 2


K 6 4


A Q 9 8 6 3

A K 8


South West North East
1 1 2 4
5 All pass

Opening Lead: Heart king

“Rationalism is an adventure in the clarification of thought.”

— Alfred Whitehead

Heather Dhondy of the English ladies’ team has the most extraordinary record in the Grandmasters Pairs over the past five years, having finished second, third, first, second and second. For the last four years Heather has played with Rob Cliffe, who read this deal from last year’s event very well.

One note about the auction: North’s two-heart cue-bid showed a limit raise to three diamonds, a fairly standard treatment these days in the tournament world. A raise to three diamonds would have been pre-emptive, not limit.

West, Brian Senior, led the heart king, on which East, Sandra Penfold, played the two, showing an even number (reverse count). West continued with another top heart, ruffed by declarer, who crossed to dummy with a trump, ruffed the last heart, and drew the rest of West’s trumps.

East, who had had to find three discards, had thrown a spade followed by two clubs. It seemed to declarer that she had probably started with a 5-4-0-4 distribution without the club queen. Consequently, declarer cashed the ace and king of clubs followed by the two top spades and exited with a spade to endplay East.

At this point West complained, saying, “I’m not too familiar with these positions, but I think it’s etiquette to endplay the gentleman.”

Indeed, declarer could equally well have endplayed West by exiting with a club, and that endplay would have been obligatory had East kept three clubs.


South holds:

K 6 4
A Q 9 8 6 3
A K 8


South West North East
1 Pass 1 Pass
ANSWER: There are two schools of thought here among those who (correctly) consider this hand too good for a simple two-diamond rebid. The super-scientists prefer to invent a two-club call, generating complexity where none is required. The naturalists simply jump to three diamonds to get their values across. Put me in their camp!


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


jim2August 3rd, 2011 at 2:40 pm

In the bidding problem, what would North rebid with:

S QJ1032

H 753

D J2

C Q32

Or with:

S A532

H 753

D 4

C QJ1032

Jeff SAugust 3rd, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Could East have made life more difficult for South by discarding his last heart instead of a second club? It looks like South would come to a position where he would know that West has nothing but hearts and one black card. South would have to hope that card is a Q and then guess which Q it is. Would that be anything but a blind guess?

Jeff SAugust 3rd, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Jim’s question is interesting. In that first hand, I can see bidding 3S to show the fifth one, but that second hand he offers is a real puzzler. Pass and apologize? Maybe bid 1NT on the first round given the terrible spot cards in spades?

jim2August 3rd, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Jeff S –

The problems with the first hand are that 3D is non-forcing, North has a A/K-free 6 HCP, and South has not shown even a tolerance for spades.

Bobby WolffAugust 3rd, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Hi Jim2,

You seem, in all due respect, at least in these questions, to have the same bridge morality in presentation which the media often has in reporting world news.

It is a known fact that a standard so-called major suit game, while theoretically needing approximately 26 points to make it worthwhile usually has 5-7 of those average points worthless in its application. Therefore when hands suggested for analysis are selected rather than dealt, the author has turned an ordinary worthwhile discussion into a propaganda exercise.

On your two hands, 4 spades is pretty close to a slam dunk on the first example and 5 clubs is the contract of choice on the 2nd hand and on each of the bidding problems given, pass should be chosen as a response to partner’s 3 diamond rebid.

Upon further reflection, a possible rebid of 3 spades by the opener on the first hand might get, but is still doubtful, an aggressive 4 spade conclusion by partner (because of his 5th spade and, of course, the possession of the diamond jack), instead, of course of a 3 spade rebid, a 2 club choice by the opener might be enabling an eventual 5 club contract on #2, by the responder raising to 3 clubs, instead of passing 3 diamonds.

Chalk it up to the nature of the game itself and the terrific lifetime challenge it represents to the lovers of the game.

However, similar to the dismay and frustration of the homicide specialists in a police department mark it up as: Murder-UNSOLVED.

Bobby WolffAugust 3rd, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Hi Jeff S,

First, please see response to Jim.

To rebid spades on the first example holding only 2 queens and 2 jacks has VERY little to recommend it and should not be considered unless you were either Clark Kent with his X-ray vision or a very shrewd dealer of cards.

Also a 1NT response, as opposed to 1 spade, holding a 4 card spade suit and a singleton heart belongs in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and figures to result in Humpty Dumpty splattering. Your suggestion of pass stands out, and no apology necessary.

Referring to your questions on the defense trying to fool declarer into misguessing the end game, that is almost always present, (at least the attempt), and very worthwhile, if successful. However it must be said, that in these guessing situations, declarer always has the advantage in making the right play, because of his being at the table and observing the tempo of both opponents in not only the hesitant time allowed, but even more importantly, their order of discards which, in turn, usually is very enabling to declarer in playing it right.

However, in my long career, I’ve played against 2 or 3 players who, while defending, make it a habit of learning declarer’s distribution early, (based on the bidding, sometimes the opening lead, partner’s legal distributional signals, and, of course, the line of play adopted) which is now used by those exceptional and wily defenders to create a deceptive final product, which, at least to my way of thinking, belongs at the top of the real detective work necessary to excel at this superlative game.

Welcome and thanks for writing.

jim2August 3rd, 2011 at 5:38 pm

I blame the Theory of Card Migration because, if at the table I rebid 3D without a semi-solid diamond suit and with a hand that would be a good dummy for partner’s and another suit, I just know pard would hold one like I suggested.

I can just hear my partner in the post mortem, “If you had bid 2C, I could have preferenced to 2D and then you could have bid out your pattern with 2S. I would have raised to 3S or even bid the game myself ….”

Of course, if I had bid 2C, I am confident that the Theory would betray me another way. That’s why, when I read the Victor Mollo books (“Bridge in the Meangerie” and others), it is always the unlucky Armenian, Karapet with whom I most identify.

Jeff SAugust 3rd, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Well, my 1NT was based on a singleton diamond and three small hearts, not a singleton heart. My bridge training is ancient and spotty (much like myself…), but I seem to remember learning that 1NT showed a weakish hand with little or no support for my partner’s opening suit. However, if you say I am sipping tea with the Mad Hatter, I will accept that judgement and no worries. 🙂

As for my question about discarding the heart, I had a little more behind that. It seemed to me that after discarding a spade and club, I would reason that the third trump round was surely the last leaving both declarer and dummy with one trump. So, the heart lead becomes rather worthless. My partner needs to have at least one of the missing black-suit honors to have any hope, so why not hope he has the setting trick and try to make things as hard as possible by letting the heart go?

Sure, South might figure it out anyway using the methods you described. But then again, he might not, right?

Bobby WolffAugust 3rd, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Hi Jim2,

In many other enterprises in life, power has a way to migrating to those who seek it, and by whatever way they try to achieve it.

In bridge it is the same condition only worse, since whoever seems to be in charge, always has many ways, in the form of examples (valid or invalid) at his (her) behest, most times on the ready.

Your last response suggested a feeding frenzy for bridge results merchants. As always, the answer seems to rest on the logic of just what a complex game the learning and playing of the game really is.

Perhaps the following list might both simplify and clarify choices when forced into making one. Let’s break them down into first bidding and then playing choices.


1. When faced with a choice, usually prefer to choose supporting partner’s suit, as quickly as possible.

2. When faced with a choice of being aggressive or conservative, choose aggressive.

3. When faced with a choice of choosing the best possible bid, but possibly not understood by partner, as opposed with a 2nd choice, easily understood, choose #2.

4. When faced with a tried and true decision, not likely to be criticized by either partner or now or later kibitzers, as against flying to a decision feeling right, but still gambling, follow your instincts and go for it.


1. When faced with an opening lead problem, in what you might consider a close situation, go for the aggressive lead.

2. When faced during declarer’s play, with a close decision as to where you think cards may be placed, after trying every way thought possible to help scientifically determine, but still uncertain, go for your instincts, based on your experience of how you judge your opponents.

3. Don’t EVER underestimate a top level player in trying to read the order of his discards, keeping firmly in mind, he also knows how you may be thinking and thus the answer is to decide on the play he was legally but deceptively trying for you not to make. Reason, he, not you is looking at his cards.

4. Not unlike poker, bridge has the same type of man vs man (or, I guess, woman vs woman) intense competition to break each other’s will to succeed. Rise above it, never let one’s guard down and never ever give up.

5. In bridge, being a good sportsman has nothing to do with being a good loser, but rather always being ethical, win or lose and treating those two impostors just the same (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling). Finally to paraphrase what General Patton supposedly said to his front line troops. “Learn how to win and let your opponent learn how to be a good loser”.

If there was a one word description for what the most important single element in playing one’s best, that word would be concentration and if a 2nd word was permitted it would be counting.

Good luck and happy migrations.

Bobby WolffAugust 3rd, 2011 at 7:27 pm

Hi Jeff,

First, I apologize for losing my concentration and being wrong about what I remembered about one of Jim’s example hands, instead of merely lazily, not checking it out. However 1NT, even with three hearts (acceptable) and only 1 diamond (also acceptable), but with 4 spades (not acceptable) since any 4 card major is preferred bidding at the 1 level to a response of 1NT which theoretically denies 4 of a major.

Your discussion about being more deceptive in your discarding while defending as East in the column hand is right on. As an aside, most defenders holding 5 spades would tend to discard a spade early (perhaps first) since the 5th spade can play no real part in this defense. In a high-level game (except perhaps as a double, double-cross) the 5th spade and maybe as well as the 4th spade (also of no importance) would normally be chosen as a grudging (not by unethical body motion) last discard in order to not be stereotyped by a clever declarer.

The key answer is, by all means, yes East could have defended in a more deceptive way and to tell you the truth, perhaps she did, as the entire hand record was not available.

Please forgive the Aces and staff, for sometimes not living up to what one might expect from a very good partner while attempting to put bridge scalps on the wall.

jim2August 3rd, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Heh-eh! I just called my partner and he said he would have bid 3D, and hinted – laughingly – that I had slandered him here. The traitor! 🙂

On your “don’t underestimate a top player” caution, I am reminded of a hand many years ago at a local DC sectional when I was defending. Declarer already had a bad board and the fight was over the last few remaining matchpoints.

I was East to his South and faced a late lead decision. Declarer’s line seemed like it could only make any sense if he had a specific, and very, very unlikely hand.

I erred (he did, in fact, have that hand) and let him escape the bottom (and I lost the top).

Afterwards, I explained and my partner asked me didn’t I know who the declarer was; it was Steve Robinson.

I asked why did he not tell me that before we sat down! (I would have believed the line of play, then.) He replied he’d been afraid to scare me.

Well, it probably would have …. 🙂