Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

A stand can be made against invasion by an army; no stand can be made against invasion by an idea.

Victor Hugo

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


In today's deal, North-South get to an excellent slam. (Indeed, South could not be blamed too much for looking for a grand slam.) How would you play six spades on the lead of a top heart?

Best is to win in dummy and ruff a heart immediately. (If you don’t do this, there are some lies of the cards where you will find it hard to get this ruff in). Next, cash the three top trumps to leave East with the master trump. Now you would appear to need the diamond finesse for your contract. But if it is working, you can always take it later. Why not delay awhile and cash your winners to see what happens?

Instead, play four rounds of clubs. If East follows suit, as here, or if he discards a diamond on the fourth club, you cross back to hand with the diamond ace and have reduced to an ending where East is down to two diamonds and his master trump. You exit with your losing trump, forcing East to lead away from his diamond queen into the K-J in dummy. If East ruffs in, he must again lead into dummy’s diamond tenace and concede the rest of the tricks, unless he possesses a third heart and three clubs (unlikely after his echo in hearts at trick one). Then he would be able to ruff the club and exit with his heart. Now you would have no choice but to take the diamond finesse.

With a minimum hand in high cards, you nonetheless have a spectacular hand for diamonds. (Partner has shown game-forcing values and five-plus diamonds.) Your plan should be to cuebid four clubs now, hoping to get a heart cuebid in later, or bid three hearts right now. That is initially a stopper for no-trump, but when you bid four clubs next, partner should get the message.


♠ 7 5 3
 A 5
 K J 3 2
♣ A K 9 3
South West North East
1 NT Pass 2♣ Pass
2 Pass 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


Iain ClimieAugust 8th, 2012 at 10:35 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Although it didn’t matter here, east’s echo seems far more likely to help declarer than partner; east has a trump trick and is it likely that west will need any info in defence?

Given that careless talk can cost contracts, what guidelines can you suggest on when not to signal? One obvious case would be where you hold most or all of the defensive strength.


Iain Climie

jim2August 8th, 2012 at 12:05 pm

With my luck, East would have been dealt:


jim2August 8th, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Separately, I have two questions on the bidding quiz.

Did North’s 2C bid show invitational strength? Did it guarantee at least one 4-card major?

That is, what would South bid over 3D with:


bobby wolffAugust 8th, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Hi Iain,

Right you are, and on both counts. My advice is that when playing with a very good partner and against excellent opponents, the fewer defensive signals possible will sometimes lead to more favorable results for the defense.

During WWII in the USA and mostly in the armed services was the following admonition: “Loose lips sink ships”, especially in the Navy, but it is also true in bridge and for even better results, sometimes it works better to send false messages to unwary or lesser known opponents. “A game within a game”, so to speak.

Yes, when the opening leader has all or the majority of the defensive strength, it is usually correct to lead 3rd or 5th best (if playing a conventional 4th) for the specific reason you suggest.

By the very sophistication of your comments, methinks you have been around the bridge block before and for many years.

Iain ClimieAugust 8th, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Thanks for this. For the record I was tremendously keen from about 18 to 26 then enthusiasm waned and I stopped playing (except occasional rubber bridge) from 28 to 53. I’ve been back a year just playing club duplicate sessions while working away from home. Not only is the game fun again, I’m not sure that I was nearly as good as I thought when I had some tournament success.

The 3rd and 5th point is particularly well made with (say) SAx HAQ10xx Dxxx Cxxx against 1NT-3NT. Leading the lowest H (ideally the 2)may well fool declarer into knocking out the SA if partner has the HJ and a finessable King. Why risk the finesse if he has a safe 9 tricks.

One matter arising, though. Should the convention card state that signals are optional or can it be taken as read? A suitable note might be sensible, while following upwards tends to be the default play, showing an odd number or no signal. Echoing requires more conscious effort.


Iain Climie

bobby wolffAugust 8th, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, your example hand is what waits the unfortunate declarer who believes his wily opponents. Forewarned (by knowing the strength and cleverness of one’s wily opponents) is forearmed.

With your BWTA question and assuming that 13th card is first a 4th little diamond I would cue bid 3 hearts (you’ve already denied 4 of them) to first show heart strength (likely also the ace) where partner’s primary priority would be to have spades stopped to venture 3NT, otherwise he might continue on in diamonds to seek a better game contract (5 diamonds). If, instead your 13th card is a 5th club, it would be close between bidding 3 hearts or rather just chancing 3NT because, not having either an honor in, nor 4 diamonds, it, while becoming a guessing game, might not be percentage to go for the 11 trick contract instead of the 9.

One thing for sure, is that learning world class bridge, is unlike having bridge authors (both books and columns) playing with our minds rather than the hot cauldron of dame fortune dealing random hands which do not always have successful endings, even for the elite in bridge.

Scientific? No, Exciting? Yes, Match changing? Often, Realistic? You betcha.

Finally, the one convention I have always preferred and have always persuaded my partners to play (all of them) is 2 way Stayman instead of transfers which, at least to me, is far superior both because of hands like we are discussing and the wild overrating of playing the hand from the strong side (perhaps as little as 10% (one in ten hands) advantage which is not nearly the gain transfer advocates pronounce, plus incorporating the rather large disadvantage of, while playing transfers, giving both opponents two shots at competing and also lead directing doubles (and non-lead directing passes), rather than one less by merely the responder to the NT bidding his suit and reducing the opponents chances of calibrating their strength, therefore putting extra pressure on their defensive opportunities.

bobby wolffAugust 8th, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for the follow-up. Welcome back to the bridge world. While being away for 25 years, you have not witnessed many material advantages in advanced bidding (not known nor cared about from the less serious players whose stakes are only pride, pennies not dollars, rather than blood and much ego).

Younger players from all around the world have incorporated bidding improvements, while artificial (often one under the suit which is held) creating more bidding space available to the partnership which sometimes is critical in finding the best possible contract. Also, and equally important, world bridge has gotten more ethical, though still fiercely competitive, and is truly what has become the slogan of the World Bridge Federation, representing “Bridge for Peace”.

Players from all nations, warring and not, play against each other with the key word being respect for each other, IMHO, the one emotion lacking in our real world of just living, which, in sad turn, causes so many hard feelings and therefore terrible unrest, often resulting in unspeakable violence.

As an answer to your ethics question of noting on the convention card that the partnership sometimes gives phony signals in order to mislead the declarer, I vote no, since to vote yes, may result in too much of an advantage to the defense, by creating an illusion to the declarer, that he follows the opponents signals at his own risk, when a huge percentage of the time the signals do indicate what they are supposed to be.

Is the above arguable? Yes, of course, but as long as all partnerships have the right blend of active ethics and true sportsmanship our bridge world will reflect, God being in his heaven, all is right with the bridge world, and whatever happens will happen, not without ups and downs, but with getting closer to finding the maximum enjoyment from our unbelievably wonderful game and from most players.

jim2August 8th, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Where did that last “x” of mine go??

(jim looking around on floor. Did it fall in my cup? My briefcase?)

bobby wolffAugust 8th, 2012 at 3:23 pm


It knew what it was doing, as it forever will be nicknamed, a climond, which in turn developed discussion about what if it was a club or a diamond. All you did was take a worthwhile thought provoking detour without having to waste words.

Always creating, you!

John Howard GibsonAugust 8th, 2012 at 5:46 pm

HBJ : Should north double only holding 3 small spades , and is it right for N/S NOT to explore a minor suit slam ? 6 diamonds is absolutely rigid on a 3-2 break , and 7 diamonds makes if West holds 3 to the queen in the suit.
Is there a bidding method that enables the discovery of the 4-4 fit ?
I once bid like South ( going down in a small slam on a 6-2 fit) only to be rounded on by partner who realized the that 4-4 fit ,which had been recklessly overlooked , landed all 13 tricks !!

jim2August 8th, 2012 at 6:05 pm

On the “BWTA,” I had also asked:

“Did North’s 2C bid show invitational strength? Did it guarantee at least one 4-card major?”

My partner is telling me that the 1989 book by Hardy on 2/1 lists the sequence of 2C then 3D by pard as showing a 4-card major + diamonds and slam interest.


1) Did 2C promise at least one 4-card major?
2) Did 2C promise invitational values? (In BWTA, I don’t think you have previously assumed the partnership was playing 2-way Stayman.)
3) Did the 2C then 3D sequence invite game? Or, as Hardy wrote, was it a slam try?

bobby wolffAugust 8th, 2012 at 7:30 pm


Sometimes (much more often than is believed), we must accept the opponent’s preemption for what it is, a major disruption to our communication, and one which turns hoped for bridge science into simple educated guesswork, usually performed more accurately by those with experience.

Yes, we do not prefer doubling 4 of a major suit without at least 4 of the other major, but when we have the equivalent of a strong NT hand the percentages will tell us we should do something and double is left as the only sensible alternative. Sure, we could bid 4NT over 4 hearts, but that should show 5-5 or longer minors and probably fewer than 3 spades.

4-4 fits often play well, but only because of a relatively balanced 3-2 distribution in the opponent’s hand which allows us to discard losers with a 5-3 or 6-2 distribution in another suit, but it is important to keep in mind that with a 4 heart opening by an opponent his partner will have many more open spaces in his hand in which to house a bad break in another suit.

As to your other question, a bid of 5NT in many sequences often asks partner to bid 4 card suits up the line (the Baron convention) so as to find the magical 4-4 fit, but those sequences happen invariably when the opponents have not preempted and have therein stolen our communication space from us, a dastardly deed in itself, but unfortunately legal.

bobby wolffAugust 8th, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Hi Jim2,

The way the majority of the bridge public plays Stayman is that a bid of 2 clubs does promise a 4 card major (Max Hardy’s advice) so that a bid of a minor suit at the 3 level after first bidding 2 clubs, then would show a 4 card major and at least a five card+ minor and, of course, be game forcing (GF) and because of that fact the BWTA always caters to that treatment.

As I have often mentioned, two way Stayman is my favorite convention wherein 2 clubs does promise at least 1 4 card major, but is not forcing to game, but 2 diamonds is also Stayman and is forcing to game, but does not promise a 4 card major, but will usually (perhaps 80% of the time) have at least one.

Two way Stayman allows low level bidding, of course after a 1NT opening, to stay lower for information gathering while both partners realize that it is GF.

Finally, although Max might have said that the continuation of Stayman was a slam invite in the minor (I’m not sure), but in reality it might only be to reach a better minor suit game contract which if 3NT is selected instead, the opponents would likely run the first 5+ tricks in an unprotected suit by the declarer’s side. As an example please consider:

s. x
h. Axxx,
d. KJxxxx
c. Kx

and after Stayman and a 2 diamond response by partner this hand should definitely bid 3 diamonds since the 1NT opener could easily hold:
s. Jxx or Qxx
h. KQx
d, AQxx
c. QJx

For those who are interested in the quoted sequence, over partner’s 3 diamond continuation the 1NT bidder should then bid 3 hearts (having already denied holding 4) allowing the Stayman bidder to jump to 5 diamonds (or only bid a forcing 4 diamonds if still interesting in pursuing a slam). If he did, the NT bidder should only bid 5 diamonds because of his minimum and no club control.

David WarheitAugust 8th, 2012 at 9:55 pm

John Howard: While you’re at it, 6 clubs also makes. Assuming a heart lead, ruff a heart, cash queen-jack of clubs, cross to the diamond king, finish clubs, then try to run spades. When that doesn’t work, throw east in with the fourth spade, and he’s forced to lead into the split diamond tenace.