Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Hope is a good breakfast but it is a bad supper.

Sir Francis Bacon

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


Playing your delicate spade grand slam, you receive the lead of the heart king to the ace. Before playing to the second trick, you need to identify your 13 tricks. The most likely approach seems to be to set up clubs or to play a crossruff. For the latter you need to take five side-winners and eight trump tricks. In turn, this requires you not to draw all the trump; but can you draw any rounds of trump? That is the question.

Given the weakness of your trump spots in hand, the contract appears to depend on the clubs breaking 4-3 or else you may suffer an overruff. However, there is a slight extra chance which will cost you nothing to take. Before going after clubs, take precisely one round of trump. Cash the spade queen, then play all three top clubs, throwing hearts from hand.

When West shows out but cannot ruff, declarer can crossruff with impunity. If clubs had been 4-3, then declarer would cash the diamond ace and lead a heart. If East discards, declarer ruffs low, ruffs a diamond low, and leads another heart. If East again discards, declarer ruffs and makes the rest on a high crossruff. If East ruffs in when clubs were originally 4-3, then declarer overruffs, draws the last trump with dummy’s jack. Then he ruffs a club, and claims, since dummy’s remaining club is high.

You might get strong opinions on this one. Some will tell you "Always lead a major"; others will tell you "Never lead from ace-fourth." My view is that against blind no-trump auctions you want to avoid leading from a four-carder headed by one honor if anything else looks attractive. Here, the spade-10 lead from the top of your sequence does look better — at least to me.


♠ 10 9 7
 A 7 6 2
 Q 6 5 4
♣ A 5
South West North East
1 NT
All 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


AviApril 16th, 2012 at 10:00 am

Dear Mr. Wolff
Firstly, I would like to thank you for publishing this column. I follow it avidly.
I would like your comment on an off-topic issue of hand evaluation.
Playing pairs IMP scoring I picked up the following hand in third seat (all vulnerable):
partner opened bidding with 1C, and after a 1D response jumped to 2NT.
Although we play the “Wolff Checkback”, I didn’t feel this hand qualifies for a mild interest slam in Clubs or a NT slam.
My reasoning was that
1. I am too balanced
2. the spade honors are unprotected
3. partner showed a balanced hand

My partner though feels that all my intermediates actually upgrade the hand to more than it’s simple point count.
Could you please give us your input?

jim2April 16th, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Avi –

I am not our Host, but could you clarify what point range your partner showed? That is, were you playing 15 – 17 and 20 – 22 ranges for 1N and 2N openers, respectively, thus making your partner’s rebid show 18 – 19 points?

Or, were the notrump opener ranges 16 – 18 and 21 – 22 points? or something else?

bobbywolffApril 16th, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Hi Avi,

First, thanks for the kind words.

Second, I agree with you that this responsive hand is just not quite good enough to first rebid 3 clubs and then over the mandatory 3 diamonds rebid 3NT, which then, in turn will be taken for a mild slam try in clubs.

Third, it seems that the opening requirments for 2NT is in the process, if not already, dropping to a good 19 making a jump rebid to 2NT also falling to a good 17 (usually a 5 card suit) or 18.

If so, the hand just does not add up to tempting partner to continue to a possible 6 clubs or, of course, 6NT. True this responsive hand has good texture J10 of hearts, KJ10 of diamonds and even the 9 of clubs, but those values usually make NT play easier rather than a suit contract. The isolated KQ of spades might be more valuable for clubs if one of your red suits only totaled 3 cards.

All in all just a little too light for any type of slam try, although some hands will just fit like gloves and produce a slam, but on this one, it seems partner will need a 6 card club suit, eg (Jxx, Ax, AQ(x), AKxxx(x) which is possible, but alas, not likely).

Good luck to you, and remember to tell your partner that, although bridge is the master, like on the above example hand, let us not play results, otherwise the already difficult game, becomes almost impossible.

bobbywolffApril 16th, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, your questions are to the same point as mine. Perhaps, under the old slightly higher requirements for opening 2NT, making the jump rebid to 2NT also have a higher maximum might then barely qualify the responder for a club slam try, but lacking that fact, it is probably better percentage to just take the relatively safe game (not so with Jx, AK, AQx, KJxxxx, or even with 10xx, AK, AQx, KJ10xx) and run.

jim2April 16th, 2012 at 1:35 pm

I did not think Avi’s hand merited any slam invitation. That is, clearly Avi’s club support was not impressive, leaving only the simple exercise in HCP addition to evaluate a notrump slam. I just wanted clarification of the math because, unless that partnership had some very unusual notrump ranges, I could not see how an aceless 12 HCP could possibly be enough to bring the combined point count into the slam range. All the 10s and 9s in the deck will not stop one’s opponents from cashing two aces.

On the column hand, that was very fine technique. I do not think I could have managed it at the table. That is, the two key facts appear to be that one must always pitch two hearts on the clubs, and that five outside winners plus nine trumps is one more than 13 so one round of trump can be drawn.

Armed with those two facts, one can work backwards to the correct line. At the table, however, I might well go astray by ruffing the third club high in some wrong-notioned safety play.

Alex AlonApril 16th, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Dear Mr. Wolf and Jim2,
Thank for your answers, i have the misfortune to be Avi’s partner or may be vice versa 🙂
Our range for jump 2nt = 18-19.
On the hand above i made 13 tricks, but i must admit that i miscounted my hand, i had 21 HCP with 3433 distribution and i should have opened 2nt.
We use the 4nt as min/max and i thought that this is the case to use it even over jump 2nt, but i humbly accept your expert advise and ask for forgiveness from Avi 🙂

jim2April 16th, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Alex –

No expert moi, but thanks so much for the “Paul Harvey, the Rest of the Story”!

bobbywolffApril 16th, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Hi Jim2,

We agree as to Avi’s hand not being meaty enough to warrant a NT slam, although it is closer to, with just the right fit in clubs, to make a small slam in clubs a percentage contract. Also Qxx opposite a strong suit (especially a 6 carder) might just be barely enough to make it worthwhile. However, I also agree with you that we would both simply bid 3NT and be done with it. But, if we turned it one notch and decided that a club slam was within reach, then a 3 club bid, and after a forced 3 diamond response, to then bid 3NT should make partner aware of our intentions. To repeat, I do not think it strong enough to chance it, but I probably think it closer to doing it then you (and Qxx in clubs might be ample).

Do not fret about the play. Taking the column line is not as easy as it appears to be. The problem is that in order to trump at least one diamond, necessary for success, we have to start eliminating entries so that the winning line, although not shouting out at the declarer, is a brilliant compromise.

jim2April 16th, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I would want to bring at least one ace to the bidding before I tried to advance the bidding towards a possible club slam.

Your last comment did bring up another question, though. What would 3C, 3D, 3H, and 3S mean over 2N here? I would guess 3D as a long suit but expressing doubt over late entries to it, but the others seem less clear to me.

bobbywolffApril 16th, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Obviously while playing Wolff Signoff, (not Wolff Checkback, since the main purpose for its invention is to able to sign off at the three level), a response by the weaker hand of 3 clubs demands 3 diamonds (some other very good players have different versions which in most cases have other varied intentions), then if the responder bids 3 spades (his original suit) it says “hands off” and please pass, if he, instead bids 3 hearts his is a very weak 5-5, perhaps 10xxxx, Jxxxx, Qx, x and asks partner to either pass or to prefer 3 spades. Responder can, of course, merely pass the 3 diamond bid if he held, Qxxx, x, Jxxxx(x), jx(x). If he, instead bids 3NT he is basically just responding 3NT, but getting clubs in the game for either a mild club slam try or possibly suggesting 5 clubs as a better contract than 3NT. If the responder skips 3 clubs and bids either 3 diamonds, 3 hearts, or 3 spades all are GF and natural

If the responder’s first bid is 1 heart instead, then 3 clubs still demands 3 diamonds, but after that, of course a return to 3 hearts says “no more” but a bid of 3 spades is specialized announcing a GF and specifically 4-4 in the majors with a somewhat unbalanced hand, likely a singleton in one of the minors. When holding 5 hearts and 4 spades a straight out bid of 3 spades over partner’s 2NT announces 5+hearts and 4 spades and, of course is GF.

The whole process is meant to be quite natural and easy to remember, keeping in mind its main purpose as a way to sign off short of game when one hand is very weak but somewhat distributional. It allows the responder to respond 1 heart or spade with Qxxxxx in the major and very little else because he is protected in favor of playing 3 hearts in case partner rebids 2NT.

The convention has other nuances which we will not get into here, but do shore up at least a few other problems which are less frequent.

AviApril 17th, 2012 at 10:17 am

Pardon my mistake between signoff and checkback.
We (obviously) got the idea to use it off one of your previous columns.

your answer to Jim2 got me thinking of an ethics question.
In the sequence 1m-1M-2NT-3c-3d-3NT – where one shows support for the opener’s minor, you mentioned that it can also suggest that the 5 level of the minor might be safer.
My question is: should the 3NT bid be alerted, and if so, what explanation should one give?

bobbywolffApril 17th, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Hi Avi,

As usual, any bid, especially a conventional one such as here, should be alerted by the partner of the one who makes it, in this case the strong hand, and upon getting an inquiry should simply say, “my partner is making a mild probably slam try in clubs, suggesting that if my strong hand is club oriented, perhaps with a questionable holding in one of the unbid suits, my partner is offering me an opportunity to play in either game or possibly slam in clubs as an alternate contract to 3NT”.

The above is a bit wordy, and could be shortened if the opponents conversation or possibly body language suggests it to be.

BTW, the above is, at least to me, an extention of what Active Ethics is supposed to be about e.g. giving the opponents useful information on what might be an opening lead or perhaps a hand description of the closed declarer hand, by his action over the bid which was asked to be described.

Active Ethics is never intended to be like giving ice away in the winter, especially in the frozen North. What makes bridge a gentlemen’s or ladies game (the game it is supposed to be) is the desire for all 4 competitors at the table to never withold useful information from the opponents to which, by law, they are entitled to know.