Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, August 24th, 2012

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so….

John Donne

South North
Neither ♠ A K 10 5 3
 A 4
 7 6 5 2
♣ 10 6
West East
♠ 9 6 4
 A Q 10 8
♣ Q J 8 5 4
♠ 8 2
 Q 9 6 5 3
 K 3
♣ K 9 7 2
♠ Q J 7
 K J 10 7 2
 J 9 4
♣ A 3
South West North East
1 NT* Pass 2 Pass
2♠ 2 NT Dbl. 3♣
3♠ Pass 4♠ All pass



Today's deal comes from the Premier League, a domestic competition in the UK that is used to select the international team. The heroine is the late Michelle Brunner, who died last year. Ironically, Brunner had been co-opted herself as a substitute to the Hackett team after the sudden and unexpected death of John Armstrong.

The auction to four spades was competitive, and a minor-suit lead would have set this contract, but West led his singleton heart — a reasonable choice. Careful play and accurate timing was needed to emerge with 10 tricks, and Michelle Brunner was well up to the task.

Correctly spurning the free finesse because of the entry problems to the South hand, she accurately rose with dummy’s heart ace, then drew trumps to remove the ruffing danger. Next came the finesse of the heart seven, followed by the heart king. It might look natural to discard a club loser from dummy. However, it was critical to pitch a diamond rather than a club from the board. Now came the heart jack, and Brunner ran this to East’s queen, pitching another diamond from dummy. This established the heart 10, to take care of the club loser in due course.

When East was in with the heart queen, he could cash two but not three diamond tricks. Five spades, four hearts, plus the club ace — the entry to the fourth heart — added up to declarer’s requisite 10 tricks. Very well played.

Your partner's three-diamond cuebid shows extras and should initially be asking for a diamond stop. Presumably, he has a good hand, either with a single-suiter in clubs or some degree of heart support. With your extras, you just want your partner to pick the best game now, and the easiest way to do that is to bid four diamonds and abide by his decision of a final contract.


♠ Q J 7
 K J 10 9 2
 J 9 4
♣ A 3
South West North East
1 2♣ 2
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 ClimieSeptember 7th, 2012 at 9:26 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Can I just add a quick word about Michelle Brunner whom I remember from my tournament days in the late 70s to early 80s. She was not only a very fine player but was universally liked, a near unique achievement as many bridge players enjoy griping about each other almost as mucb as playing. She is greatly missed.


Iain Climie

jim2September 7th, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I have some questions over the phrase:

“… a minor-suit lead would have set this contract ….”

This does not seem correct in the sense that any minor suit lead would suffice. For example, the contract makes with the defense starting with three or four rounds of diamonds.

It appears that the defense must knock out the club ace while still leaving declarer with at least one small diamond in the closed hand.

jim2September 7th, 2012 at 1:07 pm

The system seems to have eaten my first try at a comment/Q on the BWTA.

Another raise of a cue bid. (sigh – grits teeth – shudders, dramatically!)

Here, I don’t understand what “extras” “my” hand has. They can’t include the jack-third in the opponents’ bid-raised suit. Surely the QJ-third in an unbid suit can’t be much, now that I “know” the contract will not be NT. My heart suit is still the same 5-card length I showed with my first bid and does not include the ace or two of the top three honors. My club tolerance (that I implied already) is still just an ace-doubleton, not three or something like AQ or AJ.

Lump my spade honors into the king and/or shift my diamond knave into my clubs, and I might see some reason for enthusiasm. Morphing my heart J10 into the Q would also help.

Maybe the BWTA answer really is best, but did I ever mention just how much I hate cue raises?

Iain ClimieSeptember 7th, 2012 at 1:39 pm

On the BWTA is there any case for 3S here? With 4S and 5H I’d probably have doubled 2D but could partner be angling for 3NT but needs a club honour and a hole filling in spades, with 4C as his fall back position. Could he have (say) Sxx Hxx DA10 CKQJxxxx or is this too far fetched and precise? He might have the HQ as well although this leaves the opponents very little.

Any thoughts?



bobby wolffSeptember 7th, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Hi Iain, Hi Iain,

The above is not intended to be a typo, but in honor of both of your wise queries.

I, too, knew Michelle and, to me, she was exactly as you saw her. She was truly a complete person with honor, humility and talent, to which the bridge hand represented today and is exactly on point. Her smooth and unerring grace, similar to what “Dancing with the Stars” is supposed to represent on TV, in rare times, also shows through in bridge.

If high-level bridge represents only a single attribute, it is style and hers was always evident.

Regarding your BWTA response, the bidding, with your holding the J9x of diamonds and both of your opponents bidding them, rules out NT and concentrates on a choice of games between hearts and clubs. If only one bid would be allowed, 4 hearts should be the choice, but, at least, 4 diamonds allows partner to know that either would be OK causing you to allow him to make the last mistake.

High-level bridge has a certain rhythm to it and actions by all four players contribute, accenting some and eliminating others. I believe your example is just too weak to consider insisting on a game (missing a key component.

How about: Kxx, AQ, x, KQxxxxx or even Kxx, Axx, void, KJxxxxx?

With Axx, AQx, void, Kxxxxxx partner may jump to 6 hearts over your 4 diamonds and upon getting a low spade lead (from the opening bidder), I think I would let it ride as the right percentage play. catering to basically 3-1 clubs and not worrying which opponent had the 3rd heart. Do you agree and if not, what is your opinion?

bobby wolffSeptember 7th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Hi Jim2, or just to be different than immediately above, Jim4,

Again space limitations sometimes cause too brief a summary and your statement about a diamond lead being included is, of course, right-on.

The other subject leaves a very slight bone of contention between us. Since the language of bridge bidding is severely restricted with only 36 bridge words permitted (7 X 5 + Pass and then add double and redouble when opponents intervene) we need to sometimes incorporate our whole verbal (usually not so in the form of silent bidding boxes) arsenal in order to not be left at the altar.

Somewhat like, “There is a time to love and a time to die” a cue bid in response to partner’s like action cue bid, can be very appropriate when one holds the right hand. It is a way of telling partner that both of us have something which we have not previously shown, simply because there is not enough space available to describe (almost always alternate strains are suggested), what the up to now bidding has indicated.

The earlier bidding in any one hand is merely “getting started” whether opening or merely defensively getting into, but all of a sudden something magical happens (usually with partner’s surprising action, but sometimes also when the opponent’s unwittingly help us by their actions).

There should be no fear in hearing partner do so, the secret being (as is usually the case) in both partners having the experience and developed talent to be on an earned level which demands enough respect for his partner to be able to do something intelligent. Casual, no, frivolous, NO, on point, YES! and sometimes in all 5 suits including, in rare occasions, even an artificial NT.

Doing so also makes one feel much younger and especially in my case, is much appreciated.

Iain ClimieSeptember 7th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I’d certainly agree that the last hand is worth a punt and agree with the play. Perhaps also there is a clear indication that partner must have something in spades (and at least 3). Is there a specified vulnerability, though, as opponents have gone very quietly if they are non-vul with a 10 card fit?

The hands you do quote are more consistent with the bidding (and opponents going quietly) than my one-off outside possibility I must admit. In the other case with 3 card H support and a void diamond, I think I’d have bid 4D myself on the second round though or possibly 4H on a cautious day. This lets partner know the good news early and avoids confusion. The 3217 hand (or even a 4216 pattern) would definitely argue for 3D.

Many thanks for the comments.


jim2September 7th, 2012 at 3:09 pm

On raising a cue bid, you are the expert, not moi.

However, my modest experience in both life and bridge has shown me that fear of being “left at the altar” (or not getting to it at all) has led to many a bad/disastrous marriage.

A cue raise based on the “extras” here will indeed get us to the altar, but it looks to me like an early divorce just waiting to happen, with this hand Exhibit #1 for the Plaintiff.