Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

My brother, man, shapes him a plan
And builds him a house in a day,
But I have toiled through a million years
For a home to last alway.

Cale Young Rice

East North
East-West ♠ 10
 A 9 7 5
 10 8 7 3
♣ 10 4 3 2
West East
♠ K Q 8 6
 K Q 10 8 4 3
 Q J
♣ K
♠ A J 9 7 5 4
 J 6 2
 K 6 2
♣ 6
♠ 3 2
 A 9 5 4
♣ A Q J 9 8 7 5
South West North East
5♣ Dbl. All pass  


A typical auction on this deal from the Cap Gemini pairs a decade ago was for East to open a weak two-spades and for West to double South's bounce to five clubs, then lead the spade king. At trick two it was up to West to decide on a course of action.

The natural play is to shift to a top heart, which seems neutral enough — how can it be doing anything for declarer that he cannot do for himself? However, declarer ruffs the heart in hand and lays down the club ace, then ruffs a spade and ruffs a heart and goes to dummy with the club 10. Now the heart ace, followed by a heart ruff, has eliminated all the major suits. The diamond ace and a second diamond leaves West on play, forced to concede a ruff and discard, on which declarer’s last diamond loser is discarded. Most declarers duly found this play and recorded plus-550.

Notice that if West does not lead or shift to a heart, declarer cannot arrange to eliminate the major suits — the trump entries to dummy are insufficient. However, at only one of the eight tables did a defender spot the trap. Michel Perron led the spade king, and when Chemla contributed the nine, Perron carefully continued the suit to beat the contract.

As a side issue, should this be a suit-preference position for East? If so, should you use a middle card to ask for a continuation of the suit led?

The double here simply shows extras, suggesting short clubs and at least three cards in each of the other suits. Since I am not sure that a call of two clubs would not be natural here, I cannot risk that action to get partner to pick a red suit.


♠ 10
 A 9 7 5
 10 8 7 3
♣ 10 4 3 2
South West North East
1♣ 1♠ 1 NT
Pass Pass Dbl. Pass

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


Jeff LehmanJanuary 11th, 2012 at 11:30 am

The Obvious Shift aficionados might get the defensive problem right. Spurning the concept of suit preference at Trick 1, an encouraging signal (say, the S9 if playing right side up or the S4 if playing upside down) would ask for a spade continuation, while a discouraging signal (using the same cards, in reverse meaning) would show the DA or DK and welcome a switch to the “obvious shift suit” of diamonds, with either continuation torpedoing the elimination play that declarer used to make the contract. Meanwhile, had a heart switch looked attractive to East, the unusual play of the SJ would seem to encourage a switch to a suit other than the “obvious shift suit”.

jim2January 11th, 2012 at 1:05 pm

The bidding marks West with some HCP (South did not double). With a singleton spade in Dummy and a lot of ruffers, declarer obviously has no more spade losers. With the length of the Board’s red suits, even if Declarer turns up with the Qx of spades, no pitch would be useful.

Thus, as East, I would have overtaken the opening lead and fired back a diamond, sparing my partner the need to perpetrate a brilliancy.

On the bidding quiz, the answer given was not to bid two clubs, but it did not say what one should bid. I see merits both to two diamonds and two hearts. The cheaper bid would allow an easier correction by partner, but the heart holding is stronger, etc.

Is one clearly better than the other?

Bobby WolffJanuary 11th, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Hi Jeff,

Since, at least to me, the double of 5 clubs, although chosen by some superior players, seems somewhat surreal to me, with such good spade support, the vulnerable club king, and secondary cards, not taking tricks in the red suits.

Having said the above and knowing that his partner, Chemla, would be unlikely to have opened a weak 2 bid with 7 spades, from a bridge standpoint and understanding the danger of his restrictive QJ of diamonds, Perron reasoned that his premature dummy force was the best defense to the contract. Right he was as he has always been during his long career. For those who might think of partner possibly holding a void in hearts and 7 spades in hand, his partner being very short in both hearts and clubs should change his defensive mind since he only opened a weak two bid, not a higher preempt.

Bobby WolffJanuary 11th, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Hi Jim2,

From Chemla’s (East) perspective he might fear, especially because of his partner’s penalty double that partner’s King of spades is from shortness (either one or two) and thus determine that it is not the right play to then overtake, immediately then establishing declarer’s queen. Admittedly, the defensive situation is confusing because of the bidding (partner’s double), but since Chemla did have the important diamond king he shouldn’t feel the necessity to do anything spectacular.

Regarding the bidding quiz, since the three most likely distributions from my partner are 6-3-3-1, 5-4-3-1 and 5-3-4-1 the guess of which red suit to bid is a guess, but since bidding 2 hearts (the major) is running to daylight more than is bidding 2 diamonds I’ll choose it, fully realizing that I am in dame fortune’s hands.

jim2January 11th, 2012 at 7:23 pm

South surely has a 7 (or 8) card suit for the 5C bid. If South also has four spades, then there are already, at trick 2, enough clubs on the Board to cover all the spade losers South can possibly hold.

All of them. This makes declarer’s QS a chimera.

And, with only room for two red cards, the only chance for the defense to take both of them is to shift to that diamond now before declarer gets a pitch on the heart ace. (In case declarer is 4-0-2-7, perhaps with diamond Kx)

If declarer is 4-2-0-7, then East’s return does not matter.

I still believe that Chemla misdefended. He should have over-taken the spade and either fired back a diamond – as described above – or, if he really thought his partner’s king was a singleton, maybe led back a second spade himself so that the defense could score a singleton club king. (or maybe queen)

jim2January 11th, 2012 at 7:27 pm

(My browser shows a stray happy face in my reply. It was supposed to be the number eight.)

Bobby WolffJanuary 12th, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Hi Jim2,

It is certainly true that the unilateral bid of 5 clubs would normally show a 7 card suit, but what about some distribution and a solid 6 card club suit. While on the surface that possibility seems remote, but when one factors in West’s penalty double it tends to contradict what you have assumed.

It still is hard for me to understand Perron’s double, but since it was the winning action, and I greatly respect his game, it perhaps is a learning experience for me as well.

The above reminds me of a somewhat practical joke played on Johnny Crawford, an old time great card player who had a penchant for knowing which of the opponent’s had what cards and a hand was set up, some facts given and Johnny was then asked who had the elusive queen of some suit.

After due consideration he concluded that no one did and he was right since they had taken that queen out of the deck.

The bidding above leaves me non-plused which some non-friends of mine will be glad to hear.

Bobby WolffJanuary 12th, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Hi again Jeff,

The common meaning of switch to the obvious suit, sometimes requires more sophistication than expected.

For example, Chemla as East might have been dealt something like: s. Axxxxx
h. KQx, d. xxx, c.x and, of course would expect, at least to him the obvious switch would be through dummy’s strength and therefore a heart. However, stealing from a 3 little pigs bridge story, the 2nd little pig might then wonder whether partner will consider leading through strength as obvious instead of one or the other possible choices (both red suits and maybe even clubs to cut down on spade ruffs if partner’s spade holding is the bare king) and so that oinker pigs the time thinking about what spade to play at trick one. Finally the 3rd little pig after the same type of very long pause at trick one decides that active ethics should demand that he overtake his partner’s ace and make the next play (perhaps Jim2’s diamond return) because the very long pause will give illegal UI to his partner, the opening leader.

And what about, most 3rd seat defenders will never cater to what the 3rd little pig did, because they would reason, “I refuse to take the worst of these situations just because others do”.

While the above would probably not happen on this particular hand, it might, but wonder of wonders, the ones who rationalize away their ethical responsibilities, are usually the ones who do not want to discuss these things, but rather if forced, tell the messenger (in this case me) to not discuss such unfit subjects.

And the beat goes on, but the gist of what I am trying to say is 75% on sometimes the difficulty of the obvious shift and only 25% on the ethics of the situation.

Jeff LehmanJanuary 12th, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Hi, Bobby,

Realizing that probably more players say they play something like Obvious Shift but have not agreed on rules for defining the suit that is the Obvious Shift suit, I can certainly see that some problems can arise. However, the Granovetters’ book on that subject does define the OS suit. After one eliminates spades (the suit led) and clubs (trumps), and considers only the red suits, the rules would define which suit is OS, thus, I hope, eliminating both confusion and any ethical issues.

With the actual given dummy (which has two four card suits headed by one honor), Granovetters define OS suit as the lower of the two “tied” suits, hence diamonds. Hence, a discouraging card should show the DA or DK and welcome a shift to OS suit of diamonds and an unusually high card, such as SJ, would ask for switch to a suit other than OS suit, hence hearts.

Granovetters’ pigs know their place!

Now, odd/even has much more ethical issues attached to it, I would submit.

Bobby WolffJanuary 13th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Hi again Jeff,

There is nothing confusing nor the least bit untrue in your description (direct from the Granovetters’ well-written teaching) but since bridge constantly shows itself to be the master and sometimes with what we could call a devilish intent, we the third seat defender, sometimes hold secondary honors in both possible off suits and, in order to sort out a difficult suit preference choice we need to think it through, considering the bidding, the choice of opening lead by partner and what declarer has done up to then.

When it is clear cut, many defenders will just play the obvious card, but when it is as described above, the tempo could cause at least some UI which could be overcome by partner if he was a robot and programmed the right way to fit an actively ethical player.

Alas, human beings have ways of being human beings and thus, while I am not preaching against any legal improvement regarding proper signalling (very integral to the game itself) all of us need to recognize our need to make the game the absolutely best game it can be and that involves both no help, if possible to partner, and if untoward help is given, a lean over backwards not to take advantage should be offered by the receiving partner.

I’ll meet you at heaven’s gate when we both arrive, but I, for one, am not sure I’ll be invited.