Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Choose your neighbors before you buy your house.

Hausa proverb

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


Few historical characters play much of a role in the naming of bridge coups, though the Deschapelles Coup is named after a famous whist player, and the Merrimac Coup is named after a historical event.

Cardinal Morton’s role in history is relatively minor. As Henry VII’s grasping cardinal, he impaled England’s peers on the horns of a dilemma. Either they entertained him well — in which case they were wealthy — or they tried to look poor, in which case their thrift also implied funds in the bank. Either way, they had to pay heavy taxes to the king.

Here is a Morton’s Fork coup. In four hearts West leads a top club and shifts to a trump. You win cheaply in hand and play a second club. West wins and exits in trumps, letting you take both red aces and the club queen, then cross to hand with a trump.

When you lead a spade toward the king, it presents West with a Morton’s Fork. If West takes this, he provides a home for your diamond loser, so he must duck the trick. You win dummy’s king, and now cash your last two trumps, reducing to a three-card end position. If you judge that West has reduced to a single diamond, you cash the diamond king and score your diamond jack. If West keeps two diamonds, he must come down to a bare spade ace. You exit in spades and wait for him to play a diamond around to your jack.

You have a relatively minimum hand that is semibalanced. You can advance by repeating spades (which seems unsatisfactory given your spade spots) and then rebid no-trump — which is inappropriate without a heart stop — or by raising diamonds, which seems like the least misleading option.


♠ A J 7 6 3
 7 5
 Q 10 7
♣ A K 2
South West North East
1♠ Pass 2 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


clarksburgJanuary 25th, 2012 at 12:43 pm

About the BWTA item. A Beginner / Intermediate level question:
What are the relative merits of opening this hand 1NT in the first place (upgrading 1 point for the Spade length and accepting the risk in Hearts. How should one balance that “risk” against the benefit of immediately conveying the low-end limit bid, semi-balanced shape and all the responding options then available to partner?

bobbywolffJanuary 25th, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your ability to state the problem in such relatively simple ways symbolizes, at least to me, that you really do not have a problem at all.

Obviously, for just the reasons you have mentioned it is a close choice. By opening 1NT (14+-17) you will be showing a balanced hand, albeit with a 5 card major and an unstopped suit. In bygone days those two negatives would have cried out for a 1 spade opening, but not today, where most top players opt to show the approximate strength and general balance rather than seek the former uniformity of the 1 spade choice.

Less venturesome players will seek the relative safety of opening a conventional 1 spade which will almost never be criticized. The unseen factor favors 1NT since on a beautiful day and while defending a 1 or higher NT contract, sometimes (more often than one thinks), here comes a spade lead, from an opening leader who has not heard spades bid.

No useful advice from me, only a more comprehensive discussion of what is involved.

Alex AlonJanuary 25th, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Expanding on the matter, i will just add my 2 cents to the life long debate whether to open 1NT with a 5 card Major suit and my thoughts about this hand in particular.
There is nothing wrong to open 1NT with 5 carder Major, as long as the partnership is able to find it. The merits are clear but one should not do so on expense of alternative consideration regarding best contract. I tend to open with 5 cards major while holding 3 cards in the other major, even if they are small ones, the reason for this is the transfer. We will loose ( probably ) on any part score battle to all those that will play 2 Spades on 8 cards fit while we will be playing 2 Hearts on 7 cards fit. This is not my idea i read about it in the Hardy book while back and it makes a lot sense to me.
Regarding this hand, the fact that the 10 is in my short suit headed by a Q and the long suit lacking good intermediates makes this a flat 14 count and not a 14+ count, so even if i had a third heart i would not open this 1NT.
i would with this for example:
♠ A J 10 6 3
♥ 7 5 2
♦ Q 8 7
♣ A K

if we do end in 1NT the against any spade honor i will have a play for 5 tricks and almost sure for 4, that makes it a very good hand for opening 1NT.

of course with my declarer skills i would mess it up and go down, but hey i will do it my way 🙂

Alex Alon

jim2January 25th, 2012 at 4:11 pm

I beg our host’s indulgence to add a note to the 1S versus 1N discussion.

When considering which to bid, it might be worth considering what bidding tools the partnership has after 1N.

I say that because Limit bids (such as a 1N opening) have always seemed to me to derive much of their value from partner gaining such knowledge from those limits as to be able to take charge for the rest of the auction. Will your partner have a chance to learn your have five spades?

My partner and I do not have such a tool. Hence, if I opened 1N, I am confident (Theory of Card Migration) that partner would hold either:

Q10x xxx AKxx Qxx


Q10x Jxxxx x xxxx

And I would end up playing 3N or 2H.

jim2January 25th, 2012 at 4:14 pm

I had not seen Alex Alon’s post before I posted mine.

His is better.

Bobby WolffJanuary 25th, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Hi Alex and Jim2,

Between the two of you, convincing evidence of the advantage of opening a five card major with one of a suit rather than 1NT is presented and I, for one, am not going to argue the point.

The only thing I would like to say is repeat what my Bridge Captain in 1977, Roger Stern, said to me while playing in the team trials for the right to be on the 1977 USA team.

“Bobby, please be careful about making shady overcalls against a pair who are likely to be cheating, since they will know what to do when their opponents enter the bidding and also know what to lead after they double you”. Sure enough I overcalled 1 spade with something like, s. AQ10xx, Kxx, Ax, xxx after my LHO opened 1 club Pass 1 heart, I got doubled and went down 500 against only a part score which could be made by my opponents.

He was, of course, right, and I wrong, but should the lesson be about overcalling or about special circumstances?

I’ll close this subject by saying that one of the advantages of opening the BWTA hand 1NT instead of 1 Spade is to get a blind opening lead from LHO, and if that errant opening lead never comes, then I totally agree with both of you that 1 Spade is definitely the answer.

I realize that I am discussing two entirely different subjects, but even while doing it, since exchanging ideas about our great game is always constructive, I hope no one will be terribly disappointed.