Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Worm, be with me.
This is my hard time

Theodore Roethke

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

*Transfer to three clubs


What would you say declarer's chances of making 11 tricks are in today's deal? You appear to have a spade loser and maybe two trumps as well. If you fancy your chances, let's up the ante a little: you are playing six hearts, not five, and the defenders lead the spade king to your ace. You cash the heart king, finding the extremely bad news. Rather than give up, you decide to play on, cashing your side-suit winners, just to see what happens.

You try to take all four of your club winners, pitching spades from the board, and fortunately East has to follow suit to all of them. Next come the three top diamonds, and again both defenders follow suit dutifully. You have reduced to a four-card ending with three trumps and a losing spade in each hand.

Next comes the spade loser. West tries to win the trick, but to his disgust, East will have to ruff his partner’s winner. In the three-card ending East is reduced to the J-10-7 of hearts. Since a low heart play would be immediately fatal, East must exit with a top heart. Declarer wins in dummy and runs the heart nine, winning the last two tricks. Contract made!

Incidentally, the right trump to lead to the first trick is a high heart from South. Tghhat way you can pick up a singleton 10 or jack in either defender’s hand.

Even if you play weak-jump responses to opening bids in competition, this hand is far too strong for such an action. In fact your diamond fit and heart shortage suggest strongly that you should be considering bidding four spades at once, thus making your opponents' task of estimating where they belong as hard as possible.


♠ K Q J 9 3 2
 J 9 5 4
♣ 9 6 2
South West North East
1 1

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


jim2February 15th, 2012 at 1:23 pm

The bidding quiz seems a bit like a bridge Rorschach test.

In analagous situations, I have heard a jump raise to 4H being called a “transfer to 4S.” If West raises to 5H and it comes back around to me, what would I do? I would not even know if partner had a real diamond suit or not.

My “Theory of Card Migration” suggests that (should I make the 4S call) my partner would have:


Or, possibly:


The void and length in partner’s suit seems to argue for a non-preemptive approach, given South’s suit.

To abuse the famous quotation of Pompey the Great,” Stop bidding hearts at us! We hold spades!”

I think I would bid a quiet 1S (it promises 5+ spades) and, with no hearts and only 7 HCP, be confident that I would get another shot next round. The worst case would seem to be that West would bid 4H (and I could still bid 4S) but many other auctions are also possible and they would let me better judge what to do.

RogerMFebruary 15th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

I agree with you jim2 – I would choose 1S. Facing a partner with an opening hand, I’ve less reason to preempt holding the boss suit. Maybe the opponents will even double my later 4S bid thinking I’m sacrificing!

Bobby WolffFebruary 15th, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Hi Jim2 and RogerM,

At the risk of a minor bridge confrontation, I will choose to disagree with both of you, but not before, at least as far as I am concerned, explaining why.

In no way is bridge anywhere near a perfect science, especially in the bidding. With a player’s limited opportunities to speak, perhaps an average of 3 times or fewer per hand, and particularly so when an auction is contested (such as this hand, though only, as far as we know, on the first go-around) the more pressure thrust upon opponents (particularly ethical ones) the more likely our side will have to be favored by our worthy opponents not doing the right thing for their side.

Perhaps East has a good hand, and together with West can make (or come close) to making a high level heart contract, but because of the wide level (sometimes) of a mere 1 level overcall, have not been afforded the opportunity to bid the hand as leisurely as they would like, e.g.:

West East
s. xxx s. x
h. Kxx h. AQ10xxx
d. K d. Qxx
c. Q10xxxx c. AJx

leaving North with: s. A10x
h. J9xx
d. A10xxx
c. K

Obviously, the above is a contrived hand, composed by me in order to emphasize my point. However the spade suit is a powerful advantage as then, of course, becomes an immediate jump to 4 spades which often takes the oxygen out of the air for the opponents. I do not profess to ever know what is going to happen, but only that, when playing the game and possessing length (and reasonable strength) in spades I try to take advantage of it by sometimes showing less discipline than is required in other competitive bridge bidding sequences.

Two old time, but great bridge players, Adam Meredith of the UK, vintage 1955 and Sidney Lazard of the USA, still alive and kicking (but hardly still playing), could be signaled out by me as masters of the use of the spade suit, as a weapon of the opponent’s sometime destruction.

jim2February 15th, 2012 at 4:38 pm

You are the expert. not moi, and surely debate and discussion need not degenerate into confrontation!

That was why I mentioned the Rorschach test. Some see the South holding as an opportunity to impose immediate maximum pressure, a la Meredith/Lazard. Others, such as myself, see it as reason not to need to rush, a la Pompey.

For example, even in your counter-hand, N-S are cold for 5D and 5S, and one or the other (and possibly both) would get bid in a slower auction. After a 5H call on the column auction, I think both N-S would probably be constrained, N because of defense and S because of having pre-empted.

Bobby WolffFebruary 15th, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Hi Jim2,

While, I tend to agree with you about what might happen in a competitive auction at the 5 level, NS cannot make 5 spades (carefully contrived by me) because after a heart lead and the 3-1 breaks in diamonds and spades the diamonds need to be set up before all trumps are drawn, which, of course, will enable a diamond ruff.

As Damon Runyon might have said “Don’t try and con a con man”, but even if 5 spades could have been made, isn’t the equity in playing only a 10 trick contract, rather than an 11 trick one, an underrated pleasure and, at least to me, worth sacrificing at least some science for much greater latitude via preemption.

Going even further, if someone would ask me an off beat question such as, while looking at the South hand and having your partner open 1 diamond what would be my estimate as to what percentages would say about, from a South viewpoint, what the final contract would or should be?

My swift and off the cuff answer would be:

defending a high heart contract EW=15%
impossible to tell including a part score in spades or diamonds or 3NT for NS (or strangely even EW) and any other contract for EW=5%

jim2February 15th, 2012 at 7:00 pm

The play at the my mythical 5S contract does intrigue me.

After the heart lead is ruffed, cannot declarer simply play to ruff two clubs? The diamonds can wait until after trumps are drawn.

As to the pleasure of playing a 10-trick contract versus an 11-trick one, I would counter with the two hands I offered previously, pointing out that the pleasure of bidding and making a 12-trick one offers even greater pleasure.

Bobby WolffFebruary 15th, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Hi Jim2 (and probably RogerM),

Touche, you are definitely correct in scoring up your 5 spade contract, but what about, with your line of play, the possibility of losing two natural diamond tricks, in addition to one club, all that in conjunction with spades being no worse than 3-1.

All of what you say is what bridge is actually about, especially bringing up the Rorschach test, as a means of by interpreting a specific person’s reaction to his views of ink blots, which, in turn, can be used as an accurate guide to determining what that person’s personality tends to be.

All of us are different and react to special stimulus in our own way. I think, but certainly am not sure, that bridge practicality is underrated as opposed to the other extreme of exact bridge science, and in effect, is the reciprocal.

John Brown, a long ago respected English bridge author in his signature book on defense in bridge made the following remark, “If a very average player, while on defense, made the right opening lead every time, he would never fail to win every world bridge championship”.

When I first read that comment, my first instinct, (which has remained with me) was that there is a strong presumption of playing luck which is forever with us, whenever we are playing the game. If so, my bridge mind has accepted that it is more necessary than most think, to toss tacks in the road in the way of worthy adversaries, rather than give them freeways in which to drive.

If so, please forgive my bias, but take it for what it is worth and always never fail, to be true to yourself.

jim2February 15th, 2012 at 8:16 pm

You are gracious.

On the diamond play, playing from the top wins on all 2-2 splits and half the 3-1 splits.

Even deducting all 4-0 trump leaves it about 60%, if my poor math skills are correct.

Jeff SFebruary 16th, 2012 at 12:37 am

If I can bring this discussion down to a beginner’s level for moment, please allow me to ask a question about the bidding quiz. I like the 4S bid even if I am not sure I would be brave enough to make it at the table (like Jim, I usually imagine my partner has the worst possible hand for my bid).

If, after bidding 4S, it passes around to E who doubles, what should I do now? Run to 5D or pass and see what happens next? If I pass and my partner doesn’t like it, will he redouble to ask me to bid another suit? Thanks in advance!

Bobby WolffFebruary 16th, 2012 at 3:18 am

Hi Jeff,

When the bidding is passed around to East and he doubles 4 spades, if there is a trump stack it will be behind the declarer (West) not the doubler.

Please keep in mind that North may have a good hand (and even good trump support), but merely passed 4 spades because partner is not required to have anything special.

The above is a lead-in to mention that a redouble by North would be what the bid was meant to show. North thinks his side will make this hand and is very likely ready to punish a takeout by East or West should they be the ones who decide to run.

Jeff, please do not be discouraged by same sounding bids having almost opposite meanings. In time, if you decide to take bridge seriously (if you haven’t already) you’ll move a tad one way or the other where all logic will lead you to the meanings of different actions and, more importantly, the logic of why.

SOS redoubles (insisting that one’s partner save the ship from sinking by bidding another suit) have their place, but they usually are at very low levels and only in specific situations, which is too difficult to discuss fully at this point.