Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

We've trod the maze of error round,
Long wandering in the winding glade;
And now the torch of truth is found,
It only shows us where we strayed.

George Crabbe

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


In today's deal from the Seattle Nationals last year, South reached three no-trump after his vulnerable opponents had done a lot of bidding. So it was fair to assume suits wouldn't split.

The heart queen held the trick on opening lead. A second heart to the ace was followed by a third heart, on which declarer had to discard from dummy. Name your poison!

South erred in practice — and maybe in theory as well — by pitching a spade. He then crossed to the club king to play a diamond to his ace (hoping East had a doubleton queen or jack, in which case the suit might be set up without letting West on lead) as his best chance to bring in the diamonds.

The 4-1 break in diamonds — disappointing but hardly surprising — brought South up short. East discarded a spade, and the best declarer could do was finesse in spades against East and hope for the clubs to break. Hardly surprising that that chance failed, but declarer had already given up his best play for the ninth trick.

Had he pitched a club from dummy at trick three, play would have continued precisely as before. But after a spade to the jack holds, declarer cashes his spade king and plays three rounds of clubs. Because the spade A-10 remains in dummy, declarer would have been able to endplay East in clubs to lead a spade into dummy’s A-10 at the end for his ninth trick.

The choices are to jump to five diamonds (don't even think of just bidding four diamonds) or to bid three no-trump. The upside of bidding five diamonds is that it might get you to slam — you'd be delighted if partner raised you. The downside is that nine tricks at no-trump may be easier to attain. Put me down as an unconvinced three-no-trump bidder; partner often doesn't have the perfect hand.


♠ K J
 K 9 2
 A 10 7 4 3
♣ 8 7 5
South West North East
3♠ 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


jim2December 11th, 2012 at 1:19 pm

On BWTA, a 4 – 3 heart fit might play better than either notrump or diamonds. A 3S pre-empt can force compromises, but Partner did, after all, promise heart support or another bid.

Lurpoa BegijnDecember 11th, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Yes Jim, sometimes it does.
But most the hands on which you will make 4 hearts, will also make 3NT.

But agreed not a convincing 3NT, …but you have to make compromises..

Jane ADecember 11th, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Talk about opening light, and over calling even lighter. North has the only real hand at the table. I would consider passing two hearts doubled and go for the gold. A heart lead out and back asap takes declarer down two vul for a top, and well deserved also. Left to their own devices with two passes and north opening, the N/S pair might reach three NT anyway, but when given a chance to get a top, why not take it. Once north doubles twice, seems to me south should know the opps are in trouble. Another lesson about lower level doubles having the potential to work out just fine.

When you have time, could you give your opinion on all the complicated systems being used more often these days? Not the legality, but the necessity. It seems like a number of the systems can only be used on rare occasions for a very specific type of hand, and these hands could be bid with less complexity and reach the same result. Just curious about what you think since you have seem them all over the years. I find it amusing when I look at someone’s convention card and there is not even a space left for a period. I like gadgets, but I also like to be able to remember all of them. A gadget for a hand that comes up once in 500 deals may not be worth it.

Thanks, as always.

jim2December 11th, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Lurpoa Begijn –

The problems with 3N with the BWTA hand begin with the fact that declarer cannot hold up the spade. Add to that the possibility of East having a trick before N – S have nine. For that matter, if West’s spades are something like: AQ10xxxx, West may well start with a non-spade for fear of handing declarer the 9th trick. Given that North promised hearts and South has 5 diamonds to 3 clubs, the odds suggest a club opening lead if a spade is not chosen. There is plenty of room for East to have the AC so South might lose the first 8 tricks!

The same scenario at 4H means South would lose the first 3 tricks only and probably would have a good play for the rest. Also, West may start AS then xS at 4H, hoping to find East short. Since South has only a doubleton, West will likely not get an East ruff.

Don’t get me wrong! 3N may be the winner. I just think the counter-intuitive 4H merits consideration.

bobby wolffDecember 11th, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes, of course, a 4-3 heart fit might be the best game available, especially if West has the spade ace and the suit is 7-2-2-2, not allowing declarer to be able to give up the lead before scoring up nine tricks. 5 diamonds also runs the risk of an insufficient diamond holding with partner, a risk which is ever present.

However 4 hearts is not also without great risk, one of which is partner not having the 4 hearts he usually has, but still possessing a hand most good players would still double. Add that to the likelihood of bad breaks from the preempting opponents and my judgment suggests 3NT to still be the best chance.

“You pays your money, you takes your choice”, but overall I’ll string along with 3NT as the best percentage action, if only that 9 tricks are only necessary and, at least to me there will be more varied ways to be able to score them.

bobby wolffDecember 11th, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Hi Lurpoa and Jim2,

Since I began by just answering your thoughtful comments in order, I had not read the back and forth between you two.

While there is really nothing proven, nor will ever be, the only remaining factor is subjective and left up to the imagination which is usually determined by one’s own experience.

Therefore no one is right, nor is anyone wrong, but only left in the air. I’ll send it to Jeff Rubens, the owner and editor of the great Bridge World Magazine who I hope, will include that hand in his Master Solver’s Club, (a bidding forum), which includes many of the best players around, to get their opinions and more important, their individual reasons.

The practical downside is that it will be many months before that hand will appear, but, in the fullness of time, we will eventually find the top choices, the percentage vote and perhaps some reasons we have not yet thought of.

jim2December 11th, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Great idea! Thanks!

3N will probably get the top score, but I will be verrry surprised if 4H does not draw some discussion, if not votes.

I can see it now. The possibility of losing the first 8 tricks versus the chance of playing in a 3 – 3 fit.

Bonus points for any ToCM mention!

jim2December 11th, 2012 at 4:56 pm

S 6
D Q62
C KQJ102


bobby wolffDecember 11th, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Hi Jane A,

You certainly suggest a bell ringer when you suggest passing partner’s 2nd TO double for penalties.

Yes, between the very light opener and the even lighter vulnerable overcall we are, at least in the past, transported to never-never land in which these types of problems and then choices (such as passing partner’s TO double for penalties) never arose.

No doubt, the choice of passing partner’s 2nd TO double is a big action, one which will almost certainly result in a top or bottom and will be dependent on just how good defensively North really is, including not having a singleton in trumps, but these types of situations are becoming more prevalent, if only because they sometimes create problems for the strong side (NS) to deal with.

As of now, I am not in favor of risking defending a low level doubled contract without decent trumps since a basketful of tops and bottoms usually results in a more or less average matchpoint score at the end of the day, which, in turn, is not very satisfying.

In other words, I am copping out in going in the direction you are suggesting, but, since I would not open South’s hand to start with, I am not in a good position to judge what to do now. Obviously this is a real hand with probably new to the scene players sitting both South and West causing disruption to what was previously thought to be an opening bid and a vulnerable overcall. No doubt different strokes are now needed, but sometimes either one or both of the rebels are on any one particular hand, just normal, and how should that be determined at the table when the bids are just bellowed out, (more realistically, just appear from the bidding box).

Add to that the fact that East is bidding strongly, hoping to get higher than just the two level and we wind up with Jane and Bobby, like Alice, transported to Wonderland.

In answering your 2nd subject regarding new artificial wonder bids, which, as you suggest, almost never come up, some probably add them to their systems just for the excitement and I agree with you that they cause more harm to them than good for two important reasons: 1. They come up so seldom they are easily forgotten and 2. The small amount of experience present with them and the probably not thinking through of their assorted disadvantages causes them to be a net minus, even if remembered.

I will go so far as wanting to require, before a possible convention is even suggested in a book or article that, like current day drugs, the marked dangers or disadvantages present, such as easily defended, giving too much information to the opponents (by way of doubling for leads and the negative inferences by not doubling, or for creating extra rounds of bidding so that the opponents always do the right thing against them. Bergen raises, and support doubles come to mind), the untested laboratory experiences, lead to unwise acceptance of what they may call a “fun” treatment which may add zest and enthusiasm to their partnership, but fewer matchpoints and imps to their bridge games.

More could be said, but, at least to my thinking, it is not necessary.

Thanks for bringing up a sometimes controversial subject, which for political reasons is often avoided.

bobby wolffDecember 11th, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Hi Jim2,

Not to mention:
s. x
h. QJ8xx
d. KQJ
c. AKxx

where most would double 3 spades and not convert 3NT to 4 hearts, making both 4 hearts and 5 diamonds cold, in the absence of most 4-1 heart breaks, and 3NT with no play.

jim2December 11th, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Yes! But then there’s ToCM ™.

S 432
C A92

bobby wolffDecember 11th, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Hi Jim2,

Yes but when West leads ace and one spade, allowing partner to ruff with one of his 4 hearts, 4 hearts now, in the absence of a return diamond ruff, becomes cold, ToCM or not.

I suppose though ToCM would insure West was dealt: s. AQ10xxxx
h. xxx
d. void
c. Jxx

Beware (but not being able to do anything about it) the queen or ten of spades being led at trick 2.

jim2December 11th, 2012 at 7:00 pm


Alternatively, West either leads a club or the hearts are 2 – 5.

ToCM ™ !!

Judy Kay-WolffDecember 11th, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Because Bobby received so many points of view, he forwarded the following to Jeff Rubens at The Bridge World for the Master Solvers Column:

You hold: Matchpoints, Neither Vulnerable Dealer West:

South West North East
3S X Pass

South holds:

♠ K J
♥ K 9 2
♦ A 10 7 4 3
♣ 8 7 5

Also, different at IMPs?

At my blog site, The Aces on Bridge, this hand has provoked much discussion
between 4 hearts, 3NT and 5 diamonds.

Thank you !

jimmuchdiscussionDecember 11th, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Thank you, Lady Kay-Wolff!


Bill CubleyDecember 11th, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Ok, now my 2 cents on BWTA.

Partner might not have the perfect hand is uusally the right thought for those who have played with Bob Hamman. 🙂

Merry Xmas, Jufy and Bobby

Jeff HDecember 11th, 2012 at 8:17 pm


Your comment “partner often doesn’t have the perfect hand” reminds be of a quote I read once, but I cannot recall for certain who said it. I think the quote was something like “Don’t ever play me for the perfect hand, because I don’t have it.” I probably have it a little wrong.

Can you help me get the quote right and its source?

Jeff HDecember 11th, 2012 at 8:19 pm

Oops, started typing before Bill’s post. I thought it might have been Hamman but could not verify it.

jimmuchdiscussionDecember 11th, 2012 at 8:25 pm

I’m not Our Host, but google suggests it was Bob Hamman:

“Don’t play me for the perfect hand, partner, because I won’t have it!”

(Source: Jacoby Transfers by Barbara Seagram & Andy Stark)

Jane ADecember 12th, 2012 at 12:20 am

Thanks for the responses. I have a funny story about passing a low level double. My partner in seat two opens one diamond, RHO passes, I bid one spade, and LHO decides to double. (He was already a passed hand however.) My partner passes and RHO bids two diamonds. Since we almost always have four diamonds when we open with a diamond, and I held two to the king, I was pretty sure LHO has one or none. I doubled the two diamond bid. LHO passes my double, thinking my partner would bid, and she passes! RHO is a rather greenish color by now. When the smoke clears, she is down 1100. Yes, LHO made a terrible reopening double and RHO has nowhere to go. She held six diamonds to the ten or jack and only three points. My partner had a big hand with a stiff spade and I held 11. I think the opps held about ten points between them. No, we did not have a slam either. Why my partner decided to pass is beyond my pay grade, but this time it worked out.

I don’t recommend trying this at home, much less at a duplicate game.

Jeff LehmanDecember 13th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I have heard the quote about not playing me for the perfect hand attributed to Bob Hamman … but I also have recollection long ago that attributed the quote to Barry Crane.

bobbywolffDecember 13th, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Hi Jeff,

A brief history lesson, though, of course, restricted to my experiences”

1. Barry has said, “when faced with a difficult choice such as playing for who has the queen with KJx opposite A10x, play for the queen to be over the jack since possibly that same queen captured that same jack on the previous hand and it was, as usual, an imperfect shuffle”.

2. In Sectional or Regional Swiss teams do not bid grand slams unless 90%+ sure of success, since the random players at the other table might not even bid the certain small slam and big amounts of IMPs may then be needlessly lost.

3. Do not let average opponents play a 1NT contract, so either play conventions which keep them from it, or bid something and make them use their judgment so as not to be subject to the lack of matchpoints that defending a normal 1NT usually wreaks.

Bob Hamman made two interrelated comments which complimented each other:

1. Don’t play me for the perfect hand, since I will seldom have it.

2. When faced with possibly bidding 3NT or something else, usually choose 3NT since there are often many ways which 3NT can make, some with the original wrong lead or even later, less than perfect defense.

Together the above suggests that bridge bidding is at best speculative so when uncertain, fly to a contract which sometimes just happens to make, and do not ever forget that only 9 tricks, instead of more, are needed to score up a golden game.