Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, August 13th, 2012

I see but one rule: to be clear. If I am not clear, all my world crumbles to nothing.


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


It is normal these days to use a negative double to show both majors after your partner opens one club and the next hand bids one diamond. Conversely, the negative double of a one-heart overcall shows precisely four spades. However, South in this deal decided that since he was happy to play in a 4-3 spade fit, it was more descriptive to bid one spade himself, suggesting five. That got him to a delicate spot, but at least it was a game that had play. Five diamonds would have been nearly hopeless.

The defenders led the heart queen and played a second heart, ruffed by declarer. Now what to do? Declarer needed trumps to be 3-3 of course, but he also had to establish a second club trick while he still had trumps in both hands, to avoid being forced. So he played the club ace and a low club to the next two tricks, East winning the club queen.

If East returned a heart, that would provide the 10th trick via a ruff and sluff, whereas if he played anything else, declarer would win and play a third round of clubs to set up his 10th trick. When he chose to lead a diamond, declarer won in dummy and played a third club. West could discard a diamond, but still had one left when East played a second diamond himself. Declarer could now win and turn his attention to trumps. When they split 3-3, he claimed the balance.

A heart lead looks to be a very long shot, so we really have to choose one of the other three suits. A diamond looks far too dangerous; thus the choice is a club or a spade. Since no one has bid clubs, maybe this should be the default lead rather than spades. I would lead a low club of course, but you might tempt me to lead the spade nine if I were to attack that suit.


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


Iain ClimieAugust 27th, 2012 at 9:23 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

I have to say that I’d sooner have had a nice safe 300 off 3H doubled on the hand today. I accept that bidding tight games is essential at teams but a 3-3 break and some work on top may be overdoing matters. North can’t be blamed for bidding 3S opposite a “known” 5 card suit but if South had doubled 1H instead, and North had doubled competitively, would you have taken the money or ploughed on?


Iain Climie

David WarheitAugust 27th, 2012 at 10:06 am

Actually, Iain, 4 spades depends upon a) spades 3-3 (36%), b) clubs 3-2 (68%) (once you ruff the second heart, clubs 3-2 with an opponent holding doubleton king-queen is not going to help if spades aren’t 3-3), and c) nothing bad happening in diamonds. That makes the likelihood of making 4 spades less than 20%. Most of the time north-south could make at best only 3 spades (probably)or 4 diamonds (almost certainly). If this were so, then east-west could make 2 hearts, so doubling them at 3 hearts would produce a very poor board at duplicate (+100). So the answer is: north-south should bid to 3 spades or 4 diamonds and double 4 hearts if east-west chose to bid that high. How the bidding should have gone to reach the optimum spot I leave to our distinguished host.

bobby wolffAugust 27th, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Hi Iain and David,

This was a contrived hand, a Monday feature which attempts to focus on simplicity, certainly not difficult analysis, in order to present the game itself as to what it basically happens to be, sometimes very easy to understand and allowing many relatively average, but upcoming and enthusiastic players to play, without fear of error or having to deal with artificial conventions (negative doubles).

A necessary caveat to practice is to avoid doubling opponents (especially into game if they make it) without at least one trump trick or at the very least a trump stack (4-1 break or such). If spades broke 4-2 and diamonds 4-1 the opponents could score up 3 hearts doubled and their heart overcall and jump response didn’t deny such a holding. Of course, with that distribution, 4 spades would not fetch, but -100 is a great deal better than -530 in matchpoints, IMPs, or especially, rubber bridge. Add the above to the distinct possibility of NS passing the hand out at the 3 spade level, making 9 tricks (4 spades, 4 diamonds and the ace of clubs) and then making 3 spades (or as David points out 4 diamonds), stands out as the contract of choice, even though on this hand Iain is definitely correct that by doubling 3 hearts NS can collect 300.

Changing the subject to the NS bidding and a possible exception (to which I agree) is that while a competitive 1 spade response. especially over a 1 heart overcall, would usually show a 5 card suit, except when one has a fit in partner’s primary suit, (here diamonds) and a good 4 card spade suit (AKJx). With that combination 4-3 fits most times play well and that, plus of course the necessity of having to take only 10 tricks for game instead of 11 (with a minor suit fit) should cancel out the known caveat of needing 5 to respond 1 spade (or sometimes 1 heart) in competition.

All part of the high-level experience of doing what works, but, in this case, not so universally practiced by all top flight players, who in the cauldron of progressing, while playing against very worthy adversaries, learn what is extremely difficult to get from books or from being surrounded by just average players, when to differentiate from what has become for others, standard procedure.

“The more we learn, the easier it gets”.

Iain ClimieAugust 27th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Hi David,

Thanks for this and good points, but there are some further concerns. Firstly is it not possible that 3 spades will go off if spades are 4-2? Secondly, although 3S and 4D may be better than only getting 100 from 3H dbl’d, can you ever stop there? As you say, good news if EW bid on but bad news if they don’t. I’m not sure I’d have managed to pass 3S with the south hand and 4D sounds like choice of games not better part score. The hand does seem a trap for NS, sometimes even when the spades do break.



Iain ClimieAugust 27th, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Crossed wires and comments – sorry about that!

John Howard GibsonAugust 28th, 2012 at 7:30 am

HBJ : Hi there again but this question I have is not related to the bridge hand but your wonderful choice of apt quotations. How and where do you find them……are they all in your head or do you have a wonderful library of books that provide a rich source of material. Either way , all your the quotations have a great relevance to the bridge stories that unfold. I applaud you.

bobby wolffAugust 28th, 2012 at 11:24 am


Thanks, as always, for your very kind words.

We find apt quotations, not in our limited minds, but in several different books, perhaps Bartlett’s book of quotations is more often used.

One of the “lucky” features of writing about bridge is that the game itself, perhaps more than any other game, and likely similar to Arthur Conan Doyle’s superior depiction of Sherlock Holmes, the consummate detective, lent itself, especially in Sir Holmes explaining to his Falstaff like sidekick, Watson, his reasoning in solving the case.

Like sleuthing, bridge playing, both declarer’s and defender’s action are rife with logical analysis.

Iain ClimieAugust 28th, 2012 at 12:52 pm

A bit harsh on Dr. Watson, isn’t it? In the books he is a young MD who is somewhat in awe of the older Holmes’ intellect (and probably Asperger’s syndrome, mind). On the screen he is often portrayed as an older guy with little brain or guile – very harsh. The BBC did a 21st century twist (Sherlock) recently where Watson is much closer to Conan-Doyle’s original although Holmes does still give him a rough time. The cases are naturally very different to the originals.

bobby wolffAugust 28th, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Hi Iain,

Thanks for the interesting history on Doyle’s principle character, Sherlock, who has probably become to be known as the fictional detective king of them all. Dr. Watson, commanding more respect than I originally suspected, will now be upgraded several notches in my psyche.

Literary characters, sometimes like life and, more topically, bridge itself, sometimes have lives of their own, and command much attention from their admirers.

Have you no limitations on your particular communication skills which, at the very least, border on genius?

Iain ClimieAugust 28th, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Sadly my communications skills have (at least) one huge flaw – when my wife points out that my acquiescence (or otherwise) to a comment clearly indicates that I haven’t been listening. I can talk and type ’til the cows come home but communication is (or so i’m told, loudly) a two way process and I’m delinquent in one of those ways!

John Howard GibsonAugust 28th, 2012 at 6:04 pm

HBJ : One of my favourite quotes ( by Sir Henry Royce ) is ” small things make perfection , but perfection is not a small thing “. Can you think of a hand where close attention to small details enables the expert to find the perfect line of play ? Just a little challenge I hope you might take up sometime and publish in the near future.