Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, January 28th, 2012

It is as well to know the limitations of force; to know where to blend force with maneuver, assault with conciliation.

Leon Trotsky

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


At the Gold Coast last year the deal shown today came up. Three Souths out of four opened one no-trump and wrapped up at least nine tricks in three no-trump. John Holland, however, was playing a weak no-trump, so the auction went very differently.

Tislevoll led three rounds of clubs. Declarer won in hand and led a low trump to the queen, finding the bad news. Then came a diamond finesse, and when the diamond ace dropped the king, suddenly there was hope. Holland led a low spade to the king and ran the diamonds.

The winning defense for East is to ruff the first diamond with an intermediate trump. (Even a low trump will do, though it is a little harder work.) Declarer can do no better than discard a heart. Back comes a heart, won in dummy, and East ruffs the next diamond to leave declarer with a heart loser.

In fact East pitched a heart on the diamond jack, and also on the next diamond, as did Holland. When the third diamond was led, East ruffed with an intermediate trump, and Holland could see that discarding a heart would fail when East played a club, since he would have to win in hand. Meanwhile, overruffing with the spade ace would fail when he led a heart to dummy since East would score both his trumps.

So he underruffed. Whatever East did next, declarer could win the next trick in dummy and take the rest.

This is a takeout double, suggesting a decent hand, probably with two spades. Since your opponents appear to have a 4-4 heart fit and your LHO must surely be very weak, you should jump to three no-trump, hoping to be able to set up one minor or both for the extra tricks you need.


♠ A 9 6 3 2
 Q 8 5
 A Q
♣ Q J 8
South West North East
1 Pass 1
1♠ 2 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 2012. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieFebruary 11th, 2012 at 10:32 am

Dear Mr. Wolff,

I’d seen the hand before but isn’t there a lesson here reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes’ comment – eliminate the impossible and what remains, no matter how improbable it seems, must be true. Given a choice of (say) three plays two of which will clearly fail, then just take the third and hope for the best.

Yours sincerely,

Iain Climie

jim2February 11th, 2012 at 1:29 pm

I am having trouble with the bidding quiz.

First, why is it that “LHO must surely be very weak”? West is the LHO and opened the bidding and raised hearts. Was that supposed to be “RHO”?

Second, even if RHO is weak, even a Kxxx heart holding facing West’s AJxx would mean that the defense would take the first four tricks at 3N. Does North promise a heart honor doubleton on this auction or something? Additionally, the weaker East is, the more likely East has five hearts, and South will lose the first five tricks.

Third, even if we posit West with only 13 HCP (including AH and JH) and East with only the KH, West still has 8 HCP left somewhere. Unless those are specifically KS, QS, and KC, it is very difficult to see how 3N has a chance. Oddly enough, if North has a spade honor, then 3N has lower chances because West will have more minor suit strength making those suits unlikely to run.

One spade trick and no hearts (unless North has the magic Jx) means declarer will need 8 minor suit tricks with no losers. If West has the KD, that means only one diamond trick and I cannot imagine North has a seven card club suit. If West has the AC, then it would be the setting trick.

Thus, the answer assumes North has both the KD and the AC, and that East has only four hearts. Those do not seem like good odds to me.

Bobby WolffFebruary 11th, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Hi Lain,

Yes my dear Watson, you have found the right strategy. The only tiny difference between applying it to bridge and to motives for crime is that in bridge, all a good declarer can do is hope since the other two lines are destined for failure we might as well try something which isn’t, but if someone is the murderer, he might be discovered if we eliminate who is not.

Come to think of it, there is no difference in my analogy to your comment, so dear Watson, you are as right as you can be.

Bobby WolffFebruary 11th, 2012 at 11:44 pm

And what is more, I have changed your name from Iain to Lain. Forsooth varlet, I am losing it!

Iain ClimieFebruary 11th, 2012 at 11:58 pm


Jim2’s comments are interesting but what shape and strength is North likely to be? I would suggest 2-2-4-5 and around an 8 count, with West holding 11 HCP or so (and 3 or 4 hearts) and East with a 6 count. If North has (say) SKx HJx Dxxxx CA109xx and the club finesse works then 3NT is easy although this hand is perhaps idealised and includes Jim2’s magic heart holding. Perhaps it is worth considering a range of plausible hands for the double and seeing how good 3NT would be in each case.

If this sort of HCP split isn’t the case, then the distribution may be much more pronounced e.g. the opening bidder has only 10 HCP but 6 diamonds and 4 hearts – but then I always did like bidding too much on such hands. North must surely have a fair hand here, however.


Iain Climie

Bobby WolffFebruary 12th, 2012 at 12:17 am

Hi Jim2,

Yes, undoubtedly it should have been RHO instead of LHO.

Partner should have a good enough hand for game somewhere opposite the good hand that you hold. Sometimes, the responder (RHO) will be keeping the bidding open with 0 points, particularly at favorable vulnerability for them. If there was a forcing bid (3 hearts) available for me which might still keep 3NT in the mix I would choose it, but here it might coax partner to retreat to his longer minor, to which we would then raise and try and make eleven tricks. Partner may bid 3 spades which then I would correct to 3NT and partner would know there is some doubt to what I wanted to do.

Do not be surprised to find Ax in hearts with partner, so that by bidding 3 hearts we may be wrongsiding the NT.

The ploy of keeping the bidding open with little or nothing is directly connected with the vulnerability and perhaps playing a forcing club, where the absence of a club opening would suggest to his partner that the opponents can make game.

Also, by us bidding 3NT should not preclude partner with either 6-5 or somesuch to now bid his longer minor to which, since partner probably has a singleton heart and also short spades we should have a good play for the right minor suit game.

The above would never be advice I would give to a fairly low level bridge group, so please understand that the bridge thinking is based on playing against good players and very dependent on my experience.

Iain ClimieFebruary 12th, 2012 at 10:34 am

No worries at all on the typo – you should see attempts at spelling and pronouncing my surname (it rhymes with grimy and far worse things).


Bobby WolffFebruary 12th, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Hi Iain,

First, thanks for your supportive comment.

I think partner’s hand should be a full trick (about, at least, 3+ HCPS) better for his double. With that actual hand, he should content himself with only a 2 spade raise, if at that, since he only had 2 card trump support. How about, Qx, xx, Kxxx, A109xx, which is still, at least to me, only a 2 spade raise, and what about the opening bidder having both the AK of hearts, allowing for the chance for an overtrick later in the play.

Do not underestimate the chance, as mentioned before, that East is playing games with us, while possessing a Yarborough. Let us believe our partner, instead of a possible meddling opponent.

Of course, with a few points to be considered wastage, it just increases one’s chances to be able to score up 9 tricks and only one strain allows that, 3NT.

However, Jim2 could be right on and our partnership hands will not mesh, but if so, at least we failed with our boots on, trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

All of us bridge enthusiasts are better off being optimists, since sometimes good results appear out of thin air, but in order to profit, we need to be in some aggressive contract. However if card migration strikes, (the Jim2 lethal disease), we would then need to run for cover.

Iain ClimieFebruary 12th, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Many thanks for this and I take your point. Given some of my overcalls (even at adverse vulnerability) partner probably should be a fair bit stronger opposite me than just an eight count with two spades. On the actual hand, it may be a scattered 15 count, but the all round strength still gives good prospects. Opponents mustn’t be allowed to con us out of +600, especially at teams.

Is 2NT at pairs worth a thought, especially if LHO is the doubling sort and RHO is playing around? Opponents might even push to 3H allowing us to double, partner to compete to 3S or a sandbag attempt with opponents doubling when we later bid 3NT – or am I getting too devious here? Good opponents should smell a rat, I suspect.


Iain Climie

Bobby WolffFebruary 13th, 2012 at 12:22 am

Hi Iain,

All of your stated possibilities exist, including perhaps your vivid imagination.

Because of at least some of what you mentioned, I jumped to 3NT since bridge has not yet developed a speakable language in which I can let partner make the mistake. Be bold and let the opponents make the next move, which may or may not require several, before they defeat us.