Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Saturday, September 1st, 2012

An event has happened, upon which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to be silent.

Edmund Burke

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

*Spade raise


The world championships have just finished in Lille, so to mark that, this week's deals come from the last event, four years ago, in Beijing.

Our first deal features a double-game swing in the match between China and Hungary. Would you open one spade as East or make a one-spade overcall as West? When the Hungarians were East-West, both passed at their first opportunity. North responded one no-trump to the one-diamond opening, East cuebid two diamonds to show the majors, and Harangozo now jumped to four spades over South’s three-diamond call to end the auction. He was not taxed to come to 10 tricks since, after the one-no-trump response, he could not misguess the spade suit.

In the other room the auction was as shown. It takes a heart lead and a heart ruff (or a heart switch after the unlikely lead of the club ace) to defeat five diamonds. Even after West led a spade, however, Peter Trenka had to play well to land the doubled contract.

He ruffed the opening lead, pulled trump, then led a club to the king and ace. He ruffed the spade return, discarded a heart on the fourth round of clubs, and called for a low heart. With a count on the West hand, declarer knew his only chance was to find him with a singleton heart queen. There were no more entries to dummy, so it would not have helped to find East with both missing heart honors. Declarer therefore put up the heart king and was rewarded when the queen fell. He lost just two tricks for plus 750.

Your partner has shown a strong hand with both minors and implicitly short hearts, so your cards appear to be working overtime. The choice is to give preference to three diamonds (which sounds like three-card support since you did not raise at your previous turn) or to raise to four clubs. I prefer the first option.


♠ Q 9 5
 10 4 2
 K Q 8
♣ J 9 6 3
South West North East
Pass 1 Pass
1 NT Dbl. Rdbl. 2
Pass 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


ClarksburgSeptember 15th, 2012 at 10:51 am

Question here, for Mr. Wolff and other expert “Regulars”, from an eager-to-learn intermediate club player. Not specifically about today’s column hand, although it may well provide a good example.
Regarding the in-competition two-suiter calls (Michaels and UNT) are there any general guidelines regarding strategy and tactics for their use? That is: when to speak and when to remain silent; informing partner versus tipping-off the opponent; influence of vulnerability, values and which suits held,etc.

jim2September 15th, 2012 at 11:27 am

No expert moi, and this hand is yet another item in evidence of that.

Declarer apparently decided early that both defenders had dangerous shortnesses to justify their bidding. That is the only reason I can figure for why trumps were drawn completely before playing on side suits. There are hands that work that do not have dueling red singletons and a threatening club doubleton facing an ace in the other defender’s hand, though.

At the table, I would almost certainly have placed the spade ace with East, and the spade king and one missing ace with West. That seems to require East to have the QH to open the bidding.

I would have considered playing clubs first as an exploratory play, but more likely would have used trump as entries for heart finesses and gone down. I would not have expected East to have five decent hearts and fail to insert a three heart call when the safe opportunity presented itself so obligingly over North’s 3D. The reason, apparently, was to signal weakness to West due to the missing QH, but I would have probably decided it meant no five-card heart suit to show rather than having opened a nine-pointer vulnerable.

Here, my naïveté would have set me.

bobby wolffSeptember 15th, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your questions should lead to very illuminating answers for an aspiring player (apparently like yourself) to not only to rise a notch or two, but to increase enjoyment and most importantly, learn how to use bridge logic, usually based on a combination of numeracy and, at least a modicum of high-level experience.

Let us start with only one slight correction to what you suggest, West’s 2NT response at one table was not the unusual NT (although it is artificial), but rather an expert decision by that partnership, to conventionally treat it, instead of a usual waste paper method of the opponent’s suit stopped and limited, to rather a not quite game forcing raise (a 3 1/2 raise to game) with the intention of letting partner decide, which).

Now, back to business, while using today’s hand as an important teaching tool in directly answering your excellent queries.

First, at the featured table, where the conventional 2NT raise took place and after partner opened the bidding (almost always more tell-tale than a pass in starting the information cycle with a good partner, but not necessarily this time). When North offered a raise and East then passed and South now bid a second suit, West’s hand went up in value, mainly because of his 3 diamonds held rather than 2, since East is now probably likely to have a singleton and when South now bid 3 hearts the portrait of the entire hand started to take shape.

East figured to have a light opening bid (no immediate continuation over 3 diamonds), but nevertheless distributional, enabling West to appreciate both his diamond length, but his singleton heart as well and that combination contributed mightily to his 4 spade decision.

When South then plodded on to 5 diamonds, West should have suspected South’s void in spades and not doubled, but if he did he should probably lead his heart, hoping for his partner to have one of the red aces in order to produce a 3rd defensive trick to slay the 5 diamond beast. He probably decided against it, because, being the queen, he was possibly hoping for it to take a trick on its own, but that turned out far too optimistic and, by stellar play (guessing to play the king of hearts), 11 tricks came home to the declarer.

At the other table when neither East nor West bid at their first turns (IMHO, almost never a wise
choice) but here EW secured the advantage of the NS noises (bidding) which should have enabled West (playing 4 spades) to make 11 tricks, by finessing spades the first round, low to the jack), after trumping hearts in
dummy, enabling the declarer to trump the 4th heart with the king in his hand, eventually establishing dummy’s 5th heart for the 11th trick.

The language of bridge (the bidding) always needs to be listened to very carefully since the playing and defending of hands are usually vitally dependent on the knowledge gleaned.

Obviously your probing mind has latched on to what makes bridge rise above other competitions to become in many cases a thrilling experience, not to be taken lightly for mind development in problem solving with the logic involved. At times it reminds me of a crime laboratory which is seeking to determine how a potential murder occurred and therefore creating tell tale clues to who the murderer was more likely to be.

I am and will probably always be, a fantasizing player who is having a love affair with a game I have played for over 60 years.

Thanks for your questions.

bobby wolffSeptember 15th, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Hi Jim2,

You have, what at least to me, is a wonderful modest trait of explaining why, in a self deprecating way, what you would have done incorrectly and why.

By so doing. you represent the John Doe’s of bridge and by making use of misery loving company make others identify with usual difficult parts of the game, certainly card reading and therefore, learning to “guess” card distributions.

In actuality my intuition tells me that you are, at the very least, on the cusp of being a very fine player, and above all, one who respects the majesty of the game itself, which, in turn, might very well convince others, possessing natural talent, to take it up or if already done so, get more involved.

If I am even close to who you are, want to continually thank you for your comments, which always seem to be on point, and therefore give so much more confidence that they are not alone in trying to master a game, which simply put, will not let happen, but nevertheless, happiness in the form of trying will always be there for all who are blessed with determination to rise to whatever level they can achieve.

Many thanks for the role you play.

ClarksburgSeptember 15th, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Thanks so much for taking the time required to make such a detailed and enlightening reponse about the thinking and inferences arising during the auction and play. Most appreciated.
By the way, my reference to today’s column hand, in the context of in-competition two-suiter calls, was with reference to the other auction, where E and W stayed out initially, came in later with the “Majors” cue-bid, and came out on top.
I thought that aspect might be somehow relevant to my curiosity about general strategy and tactics.