Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

… that it were possible
To undo things done; to call back yesterday!

Thomas Heywood

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


When deciding which opponent to play for length in a particular suit, you need to consider how you might recover from a wrong guess beyond simply playing the probabilities.

Against today’s three-no-trump contract, one West led ace and another spade, ducked by East. Declarer played a club to East, who continued with the king and a fourth spade. Declarer discarded two hearts from dummy and now had to guess diamonds for his contract. He started by playing the king (on which East carefully played the eight), and when he followed with the ace, he had to go one down.

In the other room, where the contract was doubled, the defense started with three rounds of spades (dummy discarding a heart). Declarer won and played a club, which East again won to clear the spades, dummy discarding a club. On the spades West had discarded two clubs.

Declarer could assume from the double that West held hearts guarded. So it was possible that he had his actual shape, though he might have fewer clubs and four diamonds.

However, declarer could see that if he played East for four diamonds, it wouldn’t matter if he was wrong. He cashed the heart ace, then played the diamond ace and a diamond to the queen. When West showed out, it was simple to pick up East’s jack. But suppose East had shown out. Declarer would simply have played his top hearts and exited with a heart. West now must return a diamond, giving declarer his trick back.

You do not want to jump to four hearts here; your hand has plenty of slam potential. The best way to show that is to cuebid two diamonds, then bid your hearts. If your partner bypasses hearts, you will show five when you bid the suit at your next turn.


♠ J 6
 K Q 9 7 3
 Q 10 9 5
♣ K J
South West North East
1 Dbl. 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 ClimieSeptember 6th, 2012 at 9:55 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

If West is 2-5-4-2 the 3rd and 4th spades force him to shed a club and a heart so, when thrown in with a heart, he can’t play a club to partner. Can’t East play a small spade back when in with the CQ, keeping Kx, to relieve this pressure so that West can keep a 2nd club?


Iain Climie

Bruce KarlsonSeptember 6th, 2012 at 12:44 pm

From the cheap seats: I am not sure that I would press on to 3NT in the North seat, particularly at unfavorable vulnerability. My Jx looks as though it would be scant help (and was). Should South always have a similar holding in Spades to bid 2NT? Any 3 to the Q will be a mess, methinks.

jim2September 6th, 2012 at 12:53 pm

I would have made this hand on simple naïveté.

After the first two tricks, East was shown to have opened 1S in second seat on precisely K9752. I would have assumed that, absent voids, East must have all the other missing 8 HCP.

Once in with a spade, I would have cashed both red aces. Once East followed suit to both, I would have assumed East had the JD.

Iain ClimieSeptember 6th, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Hi Jim2,

Aren’t you trusting East not to have SK9xxx HJx Dx CAQxxx and to have preferred 1S to 1C to cut out the red suits even though it could rebound? Opening bids just aren’t what they used to be – OK I’m showing my age here!


jim2September 6th, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Guilty as charged!

With such a delta in suit quality in such a “marginal” hand, I would expect East to have opened that collection 1C, if one were forced to open at all.

bobby wolffSeptember 6th, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Hi Iain,

As usual, you are a tough analyst to overcome. However, and from East’s point of view, at the crucial point in the hand, he cannot be sure of the overall distribution, and although what you say is true, perhaps declarer can reason that it would be East not West who is more likely to have a possible stop in diamonds (jack fourth) since East as well as everyone at the table, knew that West, having to have length in hearts, was very likely not to hold both red jacks since, by so holding, he probably would not have passed his partner’s opening 1 spade bid (after disclosing on opening lead his ace of spades).

However, you made a good point, but another consideration, although most bridge hands are very different, it is usually better bridge to rid opponent’s hands (in this case, by ducking an earlier spade, it quite often gives declarer another spur to his bow to perform magical bridge tricks, sometimes producing another trick in the play.

Not so on this hand, but something else to keep in mind.

Iain ClimieSeptember 6th, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I would agree but even after a pass by RHO the seductive and sirenesque lure of a 5 card spade suit is just too much for some people.

bobby wolffSeptember 6th, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Hi Bruce,

I totally agree with your proposed pass of 2NT, unless NS have some kind of understanding that his 2 heart balancing bid could be lighter than most people play.

It is the partnership understanding which determines, but with a relative stranger as a partner, I would probably jump to 3NT with the South hand, but pass 2NT with North’s hand if South bid only 2.

One small word of caution, though, the Jack of spades could be important and overall is worth at least the 1 point to which the Goren point count gives it. Here, you are basically correct in it not being important, but it well could be if partner for example, had only Q9xx.

bobby wolffSeptember 6th, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Hi Jim2,

While what you say has logic, it is a dangerous assumption to infer where a stray jack may be located, and many more times than not, the distribution gleaned is of much greater impact than who holds a particular jack (not meaning to insult the jack’s personal identity).

bobby wolffSeptember 6th, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, your described hand could be the one in question. However, that would have required East to duck the second spade allowing declarer the option of winning in either hand, and although, on this layout, there is probably no advantage accruing to South, perhaps on the next hand there might be (though it is hard to see where it could be).

For what it is worth, I would open your proposed hand one spade to cut out the chance of a red suit 1 level overcall.

bobby wolffSeptember 6th, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Hi Jim2,

As an expert player, you would have to weigh the suit quality (and the ease of rebid) against the preemptive advantage. I prefer being, what I think, to be a tough opponent rather than worry about varying other values, but in fact have no statistics to prove my choice.

jim2September 6th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I did not say I was right (and certainly NOT that I was an expert).

All I said was that I would have made the hand due to my naïveté.

bobby wolffSeptember 6th, 2012 at 3:09 pm


You continue to be modest, but in reality are in a relativity small group of good players who, my guess, are among the top 5% worldwide.

If others believe, as I do, that the beginning of wisdom is when we collectively realize how little we know, one’s upside on scaling a mountain, playing better bridge, or any other worthwhile goal, rises geometrically rather than just incrementally.

Iain ClimieSeptember 6th, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Hi again,

I’m posting far too much today but can I have a look at the BWTA hand as well. For slam to be on here, partner is likely to need something like SAQxx HAxxx Dx CAxxx so very rich in controls via 3 Aces and a singleton or 2nd rd control. Given the wastage in diamonds, and a likely 3-1 trump break, even that hand still needs a lot of work to get 12 tricks. Add the S109 and it is much better, of course, but the SK could still be offside. Is a slam try not asking quite a lot here, especially as partner may not expect an aceless hand?



bobby wolffSeptember 6th, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Hi Iain,

I totally agree with you, and besides, if partner happens to hold what is necessary, your partner’s jump to 4 hearts should not stop him from bidding on.

Sometimes, we in this case, try to do too much with our explanations, and therefore, because of the wide applications available in order to snugly arrive at our presumed best contract, take an overly circuitous route.