Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, January 15th, 2012

If my LHO bids and my partner doubles and there is no intervening bid, do I have to bid?

Running Scared, Holland, Mich.

You do not have to bid, but you are expected to do so unless you have a trump holding that suggests playing for penalties. If you have five trumps, they should be very chunky for you to pass. And, of course, you must not pass from weakness — you may even have to bid a three-card suit in an emergency.

I was waiting to bid in third seat at favorable vulnerability with ♠ A-Q-3,  K-J-9-4,  A-Q-5-3, ♣ 10-4 when I heard my partner open three clubs. Naturally I bid three no-trump, but I found him with seven clubs to the king and the singleton diamond jack. After going down two, I remonstrated with him about pre-empting with such a weak suit, but he said that was normal. What do you think?

Outraged, Honolulu, Hawaii

I hate to disagree with my correspondents, but I think at favorable vulnerability in first seat I have done worse — and got away with it. I would have bid three no-trump with your hand if I had held a third club, but as it is, I think the chances that you would not be able to reach your partner's hand were slightly too high.

In one of your columns, a player with ♠ A-K-Q-9-8-6-5,  4,  10-6-5-3, ♣ A opened four spades. This seems too strong a hand for that opening, with eight quick tricks. If South does open four spades, what kind of hand should his partner have to move on to slam?

Excelsior, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Depending on vulnerability, you might have as little as a sound pre-empt at the three-level with an extra card. But vulnerable, a four-spade opening suggests eight playing tricks, though rarely two first-round controls — the quoted hand is indeed at the very top of the range. To consider moving, facing a nonvulnerable four-heart opener, I'd want at least a strong no-trump with a source of tricks, and three key-cards.

When a player revokes, what are his obligations to admit to it as opposed to trying to conceal it?

Law-Abiding Citizen, Boise, Idaho

Do not deliberately conceal the revoke by claiming or conceding; equally you are not obliged to say anything in this position. You must not, however, deliberately revoke a second time to conceal the first revoke.

For the first time I can remember, I had a hand without even a 10. What are the odds of that happening?

My First Yarborough, Grand Junction, Colo.

The number normally quoted for a Yarborough is 1828 to 1.

You can see more on the subject of the famous Earl at here.

The math is complex but to express it simply, divide the number of hands that qualify for a Yarborough (all hands made up of the 32 cards that contain no AKQJ10) by all possible hands to get the number.

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


albert ohanaJanuary 29th, 2012 at 10:40 am

Hi M. Wolff

One of your readers mentioned the theory of card migration : could you please explain what it is ?

Many thanks in advance and best wishes to people you love

A. Ohana

Iain ClimieJanuary 29th, 2012 at 11:35 am

I’ve just returned to the game after 25 years away and I’ve found this site very useful and entertaining. You might like to consider “If we clutch at enough straws, we can build a raft” as a motto for bad contracts; I love the comments at the start of each article.

I used to play a lot of tournament bridge in the UK but so far have kept to club play while working away from home during the week. Can I send you an amusing hand where one recent partner had a brainstorm (not that I’m necessarily any better) with a side suit in 6 Hearts of SAKQ43 (dummy) opposite S7652 and no entry to dummy. He’d drawn trumps, but then cashed the SAK without really paying attention, and hadn’t kept the S2. He then spotted the blockage – but had RHO guilefully chucked a club on the 2nd spade or were they 2-2 all along? He had a neat play available which covered either case but unfortunately missed it.

jim2January 29th, 2012 at 1:29 pm

I am so embarrassed!

I must confess that “The Theory of Card Migration” is something I created as a bridge version of Murphy’s Law. My partners have patiently endured hearing it from me for many years.

Perhaps the most basic example is the two-way finesse. Whichever way I take it, it will fail. I explain it as the missing card “migrates” to the “wrong” hand. Another explanation is the “Schrodinger’s Cat” approach, wherein the missing honor is not on either hand or is in both right up until one finesses and then it migrates to the wrong hand.

The “Theory” also applies to opening leads or bids which, though they worked or were even triumphs in the columns, would have been disasters for me because I assert that the cards’ layout would have been different (or migrated) if I had made that identical bid or play. Ace leads that an inspired column West did to view the Dummy, for me see only Dummy’s void across from declarer’s KQx, etc.

DarinTJanuary 29th, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I vaguely remember that some old bridge teaching software would do what jim2 was suggesting. It gave the user hands with specific lessons in mind, but if you tried something else the unseen cards would rearrange themselves so you would fail. So if the lesson was to endplay a defender but you had a suit with a two-way guess for a queen, if you tried to guess the suit you would always fail.

Bobby WolffJanuary 29th, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Hi Albert,

Merely glance at other comments and the one from Jim2, who created that bridge comment, explained it in a very intelligent way.

It is always nice to hear from you and good health and bridge luck to you.

Bobby WolffJanuary 29th, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Hi Iain,

After 25 years, welcome back and do not become a stranger soon.

Yes, bridge can be a devil, but the solving of the problems, sometimes too late and hence only becoming a learning experience for next time, positively distinguish it from lesser activities.

It is nice to hear from you.

Bobby WolffJanuary 29th, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for your answer to Albert.

Your theory of card migration might someday be thought of as a gremlin magic trick.

Bobby WolffJanuary 29th, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Hi DarinT,

The bridge game which you discuss sounds terrific. That is, as long as I do not have to do the programming.

Thanks for your bringing it to our attention.

jim2January 29th, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Mr. Wolff –

Thank you for your tolerance!

One need merely google “theory of card migration” (all in quotes) to see that I have committed references to it before, though I had mentioned it to you in e-mails on your columns over the years before I discovered this blog.

clarksburgJanuary 30th, 2012 at 2:45 am

Hey Jim2…don’t be embarrased!
The Murphy’s Law of bridge, dressed to the nines.
Adding the “Theory” to one’s vocabularly will make Bridge, and particularly the post mortems, even more fun than it already is!

Bobby WolffJanuary 30th, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes, perhaps one fine day, some player will be glad he miss guessed the queen just so that he could talk about Jim2’s theory.

jim2January 30th, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Aye, there is a bit of solace to be had there but, on balance, I’d rather guess right!

albert ohanaJanuary 31st, 2012 at 7:51 am

Thank you JIM 2 for your explanations

I wish you better guesses in the future !

Perhaps you should try this : when you decide to finesse against East, play one card from your hand, and the ultime moment, change and finesse against West, before the card has migrated !!!

Good luck anyway …

jim2January 31st, 2012 at 1:20 pm


I think that may have worked for me the first time, but the cards learned!

Now, they wait until I commit myself …. 🙂

Iain ClimieFebruary 4th, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff,

Many thanks for your encouragement. Just for interest, someone else asked me to write up the hand I mentioned recently – I’ve put the info below and I hope you don’t regard it as overly self-indulgent. Also, the suits havn’t come out too well in the text. I was slightly embarassed by the request as one local club (Hitchin in the UK) wants me to do a column for their website but a national newspaper has just dropped Zia Mahmood’s weekly column – absurd, although I suspect money may be a factor.



Anyway, the hand, which I hope is enjoyable. Nobody was vulnerable, and the East-West hands were as follows:

♠ 7 6 5 2
♥ A 7 6 5 3
♦ A K 8 6
♣ None

♣ A K Q 4 3
♥ K J 9
♦ 10 5
♣ K 10 8

South opened with 3 clubs, a normal pre-empt, and West doubled for takeout. There is much to be said for my just bidding 6 spades on the East hand, an action which Dick Shadbolt, my regular partner in Stevenage, would applaud; he is a great enthusiast for not messing about if a sensible final contract is in sight. Instead I had to try to be more scientific so bid 4 clubs to get more information from partner. He bid 4 hearts, and I bid 4 spades, intended as a slam try in spades but treated (reasonably) by partner as a cue-bid agreeing hearts, West cue-bid 5 clubs, I bid 5 spades (showing worries about diamonds), West bid 6 clubs and I settled for 6 hearts, hoping this was best but horribly aware that I’d dug myself a deep hole.

North realised that there had been a mix-up, didn’t want to lead a club when we’d both cue-bid the suit, so settled for a safe trump lead from 10 8 2, or so he thought. The 9 from dummy fetched the Queen from South. West won and a heart to the Jack saw both opponents follow. Waves of relief flowed across the table from declarer as the contract is now easy unless spades are 4-0 (they aren’t). West cashed dummy’s heart King, the Spade Ace (both following) and the Spade King, before looking up with an expression of total horror. He had played the spade 2 under the spade Ace, blocking the suit. Worse still, due to playing too fast, he hadn’t paid attention to South’s card on the Spade King – had he followed suit (North had) or cunningly discarded the club 9 or something similar? If spades are 2 – 2, then West can simply play the spade 4 to his 7 and then go back to dummy by overtaking the 6 then cashing the 3 and losing a diamond at the end. But what if they are 3-1? Is there any way for West to recover from his brainstorm?

There is an answer which works whether spades are 3-1 or 2-2 but was missed at the table. Just lead a club from table (the King if you want to be flashy) and throw away the blocking spade 6 from hand when South plays either the Queen on a small club ot the Ace on the King. This loser-on-loser play unravels the spade suit and allows West’s 2 losing diamonds to be thrown on dummy’s spade winners.

The trick (I suppose) is to look for ways to unravel a mess and not to panic even when things have gone wrong.