Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, October 26th, 2012

A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.

Victor Hugo

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


**Spades and another suit


In today's deal West knew that his opponents were in a thin three-no-trump contract (East had to have a few points for his voluntary heart bid) and so was reluctant to lead a heart, which could easily have given declarer a trick. Instead, he chose what he hoped was a passive diamond, and in a way he was right because the diamond did not give anything away.

Declarer won in hand with the queen, played a club to dummy’s jack and East’s 10, then led a club back to his queen, East following with the 10 and the nine, West winning his king.

West now switched to the heart queen, which held the trick. What now? West continued with another heart, won by declarer’s ace, and declarer rattled off four more club tricks. At this stage declarer had seven tricks and needed two more. Everyone was reduced to four cards, and as dummy was discarding after West, there was an answer to anything the defense did. West’s best shot was to come down to three spades and a singleton diamond ace. But declarer simply kept two diamonds and two spades in dummy and led a diamond up.

When the heart queen held, what West needed to do was cash both his aces before he played another heart. Since East had given count in clubs and hearts, West might have been able to work out declarer’s shape. This defense forces declarer to give East a heart trick after he has cashed his clubs.

Pass. A double of two diamonds would be penalty here, but you need rather more in defensive strength than this hand. Since the opponents are fairly sure to be correcting to two hearts now, a contract against which you have no sure winners, you don't want to encourage partner to double that contract unless he has real extras on defense.


♠ K Q 9 8 4
 8 6
 K J 4 3
♣ J 4
South West North East
1♠ Pass 2♣ 2

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 ClimieNovember 9th, 2012 at 10:58 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

On the play hand, I’m surprise South didn’t just take the money off 2H here on the near certain assumption thet North has spades and diamonds. This looks like at least 500 on a hand where game may not be on due to the misfit even if partner has a good overcall. I think north was really tempting fate at adverse vulnerability with what ids a very modest hand.


Iain Climie

ClarksburgNovember 9th, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Mr. Wolff,
In the BWTA item, if South did have some more defensive strength and made the penalty Double, would that Double be unambiguously 100% for penalty, to be left in?
A more general question, not specifically about today’s BWTA item: To help intermediate club players, are there any general guidlines as to when a Double of a below-game contract is unambiguously for penalty? i.e. “hmmm, I know it’s not one of the conventional doubles we play; it could be card-showing giving me the option; but in this auction-context, does partner unambiguously want this Double left in?”

Bobby WolffNovember 9th, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Hi Iain,

While I cannot fully vouch for why, even very good players, do not opt for doubling and then defending, I can volunteer what I think are valid reasons for that decision:

1. Defending is almost always more difficult than declaring, especially against suit contracts where the opening lead is often a blind choice.

2. A winning partnership wants to encourage partner into the bidding, especially against a weak NT opening where vulnerable games lurk more often than many suspect. A sure way to inhibit partner to do so is to double the opponents (which often signals or even demands partner to pass than it is to offer him an option, since after all, sometimes the better distribution the intervenor has (void in the bidder’s, LHO’s, trump suit), the more he might think you have 3+ or more trump tricks).

3. Also, such as this hand, South’s 6 card club suit, might serve as the basis for an easy 9 tricks, granted by catching partner with a lucky card or two.

4. While bridge is very much a partnership game, very competent and wily opponents are always looking to steal a hand or two and by doing their adversaries out of a vulnerable game for -300, is a worthwhile pickup.

5. Many big swings, both pro and con, hang on a tiny shred of just what side card or cards partner has, whether it is to increase a set or to score up a vulnerable game, and by being declarer it is a sure thing that top players realize just what to do, in a much easier way than it is to guess the early defense and to some degree be at the mercy of dame fortune on defense and therefore have significantly less control.

Perhaps my above scattered reasons do not carry the day with you, but in any event I think they represent the reasons high-level players have for their choice to play rather than to defend.

Thanks for bringing up a subject all bridge lovers (at least those like you, possessing much talent) should discuss among each other.

Bobby WolffNovember 9th, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Sometimes the meanings of doubles are troubles.

However, with today’s BWTA, a double of 2 diamonds is definitely for penalties and not just showing cards. Card showing doubles usually (perhaps 80%+) revolve themselves with doubles after the opponents have shown a trump fit between them. The remaining 20%-
are usually (perhaps always) conventional types such as 1C, pass, 1D, 1S, double by the opening bidder showing 4 hearts (done so because of frequency of occurrence as opposed to having the less likely penalty double of 1 spade).

While penalty doubles are hardly ever a mandatory demand to being left in, the double in today’s hand is not even close to qualifying.

As mentioned, one requirement to choose to make a penalty double is to not mind standing for a double, once one’s LHO takes a preference for his partner’s 1st suit and now partner doubles.

I could mention a little more about this situation but I’ll leave it with better to let the opponents off the hook than to adopt a hard line and double too often, causing one’s partnership to become shaky with sometimes very good, but also often very poor results.

Cutting to the chase would be akin to encouraging both partner’s to devote time to understanding the logic and therefore the language of bridge, so that their wave length blends, enabling them to be able to communicate satisfactorily.

Getting to the point of 100% compatibility is unrealistic, but 75% is good enough, making the exercise well worthwhile.

Iain ClimieNovember 9th, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Many thanks for the good list of reasons, which made me think of one more. 3NT is the game contract which is most often let through, especially when the defensive assets are mostly in one hand.