Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Nothing needs a Trick but a Trick; Sincerity loathes one.

William Penn

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


When dummy comes down in four spades on a top club lead, it is easy to see that there are now three established fast losers (two hearts and one club) and declarer has to find a way to dispose of his third-round heart loser.

The natural approach might be to win the club and duck a heart, but the defenders can prevail by continuing the attack on clubs. Now if South plays a second heart, East will win and play back a spade. If South takes the heart ruff in dummy he can only escape from the North hand by leading diamonds, promoting a trump trick for West.

An alternative approach of taking the diamond finesse also fails as the cards lie, since the defenders now have four top winners, while ruffing a diamond before drawing trump seems to establish a trump trick for West. So what’s left?

The winning line is straightforward enough, but hard to spot. South wins the club lead and cashes the spade ace. When both opponents follow, he takes the ace and king of diamonds, then leads the diamond jack, planning to pitch a club if East follows low. This line virtually insures the contract no matter who has the diamond queen. If East covers the diamond jack, South must ruff high, then cross to the spade king to lead a diamond winner and pitch the club loser. No matter what happens next, he can lose no more than two hearts and one trump.

Your hand has real slam potential (imagine the facing hand with six good spades and the diamond queen plus the two other aces). Alas, since a bid of four diamonds would be natural, not a cue-bid, you must bid four hearts now. In such a space-constrained auction, this simply shows a good spade raise, neither promising nor denying a heart control. Second choice: a pessimistic raise to four spades.


♠ K 7 4
 5 3
 A K J 9 2
♣ 6 4 3
South West North East
3 3♠ 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


RogerMFebruary 14th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Dear Mr. Wolff,

Since I read this column every day but don’t often comment, let me take this opportunity to thank you for your insights and additional thoughts – in particular in the comments section.

I agree it is hard to spot – I did not get this one right.
It is amazing to me (and a good lesson) how very often a long, strong suit in dummy provides the winning option – even when it may not look like you need that suit.

On the BWTA section, would you mind discussing what some of the continuations might mean after a 4 heart cue-bid by South?

RogerMFebruary 14th, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Well, now that I’ve thought about it a little more, I’m embarrassed to have asked that last question. I guess 4NT would be keycard ask, and anything past that would be cue-bid/slam try.

jim2February 14th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

In the bidding quiz, there seem to be four general areas of responses:

1) commit to slam
2) invite slam
3) settle for game
4) bid new suit below game

I agree with the quiz answer’s implied position that the hand is not worth #1, and that #4 is reasonable but a bit timid.

I appreciate that 4H offers a unique advantage in that it is a below-game cue bid.

Could I solicit a bit more info on the other posible bids?

Would 4D be forward-going? Is it forcing to at least 4S?

Would 4N be key card for spades? Would it be a reasonable choice in either case?

What would 5S show?

jim2February 14th, 2012 at 4:38 pm

— sigh —

I meant “that #3 was reasonable but timid.” — simply bid 4S, that is.

Bobby WolffFebruary 14th, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Hi RogerM,

And a fond welcome to you.

Thanks for the kind words.

Yes, probably when a player with upside bridge potential first gets hooked on the game, he then realizes how often and from different perspectives, long suits (both in dummy, but sometimes as a 2nd suit in hand), allows the contract trick to be established and cashed.

Taking another step forward and when one talks about efficiency in arithmetic, allowing a good bridge player to develop, what he usually actually means is that the subject player is allowing his numeracy (always thinking about numbers, which is my definition). The math involved is usually simple, (counting all suits up to 13), but the different applications are wide and varied.

Is that as difficult as it seems to many? Definitely not, but then riding a bicycle when very young seems next to impossible, but once learned (and mastered), never forgotten.

On the BWTA hand, once the responder chooses the ubiquitous 4 heart cue bid, then, of course, pass partner’s mere return to 4 spades and for that matter, if he instead, goes forward with a cue bid of his own, since our first response has been a slight push, we should just bid a minimum number of spades as our second bid.

One caveat to remember:

While bidding our hand, we almost never continue it to be classified as a good or a bad one, but only in relation to our previous actions. If one overbids first then he should pull in his horns, but if he is conservative the first time, then upon partner still asking, next time, be aggressive. Only if the 3rd of the three bears whose porridge was just right the first time, then the 2nd time, if asked, deft judgment is called for and its up to the player involved, to now do the right thing.

Bobby WolffFebruary 14th, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Hi again RogerM,

Yes, see you are already correctly answering your own questions.

Bobby WolffFebruary 14th, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Hi Jim2,

I think 4 hearts is a pushy cue bid and with many partners (perhaps most) I would only raise to 4 spades.

Many good partnerships, perhaps most, would play a change of suit as a one round force, but I do not agree to that way of doing it, although there is definite logic in doing so.

My basic original bidding philosophy was probably based on the ACOL style of bidding where many situations were limit bids, NF, but, of course, hoping to catch partner with a fit. Obviously, then with good spade support I would never consider 4 diamonds, and for those who play it forcing, my contention is that partner may raise to 5 with as little as xx(x) in diamonds, merely because it is forcing and then when we return to 5 spades we now risk being in down territory.

4NT, either KCBW or just BW, is a huge overbid and against all discipline. When one chooses an ace asking response he has already decided to bid a small slam if not off 2 aces. Obviously I do not believe that this hand is close to so doing.

A bid of 5 spades usually would be thought of as asking for 2nd round control of the obvious suit, in this case hearts, but some time, when the bidding starts at a high level it merely asks partner to look at his hand and come up with the right answer.

The scientific bridge player, even a great one, sometimes goes into denial about that type of bid even existing and refuses to have it mean anything.

And now to mention something practical, but ghastly. At all levels, more often at the lower ones, but still, unfortunately at higher ones, some partners of the three spade intervener, by their tempo and body action will convey unauthorized information as to the relative strength of their hand, e.g. when bidding 4 hearts will either intentionally or not convey whether his hand is solid or notso. No good player would ever waste time on doing such a thing with only a 4 spade raise, since partner could never bid over that.

Sorry to bring up that X rated stuff, but the immediate above tends to destroy our game and certainly gives undue advantage to some who ply that trade.

Returning to discussing whether to play a change of suit at this higher level is a one round force or not. The big upside in playing it forcing is when we are short in spades, but have a very good hand outside, but maybe both the other 2 suits and we would like to explore both suits before being passed out.

It still rankles me to have an otherwise very good bridge author, especially in his signature book, only give hands which are very suitable to his preferred methods.

Please excuse my long answers, but rather than just yes or no, I think you are entitled to the reasons why and other pertinent information worth knowing.