Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

I stayed in a really old hotel last night. They sent me a wake-up letter.

Steve Wright

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

*Five hearts, four spades, 11-15 points


The general rule about signaling is that you encourage to get a suit continued, and discourage to get the obvious shift. Occasionally, though, an unusual card should wake partner up to making a counterintuitive play.

In today’s deal from the Seattle Board-a-Match, Sid Brownstein, South, bravely balanced into his opponents’ suit, and his partner took him seriously. Against three spades doubled, the low heart lead went to the king and East’s ace, and East cashed the diamond ace, West signaling with a middle diamond. East now played back the heart jack, on which Brownstein carefully discarded his diamond king, eliminating the threat of the diamond ruff. When declarer subsequently located the club queen, he was able to wrap up 730.

In my opinion, both defenders were responsible for the poor result. East really should have shifted to a low spade at trick three — what high card other than the spade king could his partner hold that would set the contract and without that card how could West have doubled three spades? Equally, West might well have dropped the diamond jack on his partner’s play of the ace. This would have been an “oddball” signal to wake up partner to the need to play the unusual suit to get his ruff — in this case, a trump!

Here, by contrast, the diamond queen would simply show the queen and jack and suggest to East that he could continue the suit if he wanted to, or was able to.

Your partner's cuebid is Michaels, showing 5-5 or more in hearts and a minor. If you were asked to guess, you would assume that your easiest game would be four hearts, so bid it. But if the opponents bid on to four spades, you should not sell out. Instead, compete with four no-trump to find partner's minor.


♠ Q
 K Q 5
 10 9 8 4 2
♣ A J 10 7
South West North East
1♠ 2♠ 3♠

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 ClimieDecember 12th, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Although not related to today’s column, can I send you some info about the problems currently being encountered by Hitchin BC in Herts (UK), probably late tonight British time? The club, where I played for 13 months recently, is extremely friendly but is facing possible loss of its premises due to council redevelopment of the park where they use the pavilion. It is perhaps a reminder to all of us that grassroots bridge, on which higher levels depend, cannot be taken for granted.


Iain Climie

jim2December 12th, 2012 at 1:17 pm

So, for the second BWTA in a row, bidding 4H on a 3-card suit might be the winning action!


bobby wolffDecember 12th, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Hi Iain,

The problem of continuation of a known bridge venue is a common one throughout the American colonies.

For one reason or another, bridge clubs are required to move since making enough space available for lease (and bridge requires certain dimensions, 64″ centers per table), and enough room to roam as well as proper acoustical tile on the wall (to keep the sound down), bathrooms, storage facilities, proper climate control (and many southern venues are very hot in the summer making proper air conditioning a certain requirement).

Consequently, if a public place is chosen, there often are conflicts and private places are sometimes outpriced because of their preferred use for business enterprises producing a higher rent for their landlords.

Cutting to the chase, many bridge clubs in the USA, are like traveling crap games, moving often which endangers stability. The above problems are discarded by the ACBL, which does not get involved and leaves it up to the individuals involved to negotiate themselves and only deal with the ACBL with setting up the schedule of games, getting out the particulars, selecting the TD’s (loosely selected and usually without proper training) and, of course, the main function issuing master points to the winners and other higher finishers (more often than one thinks allowing 40% games to share in the winning of recorded master points when in a lower strata). Since the advent of master points (Bill McKinney’s invention) in the mid 1930’s, it is the golden egg which the goose laid and represents the proud goal of most of the players.

All in all, a very informal process which is sometimes abused, but nevertheless popular. The ACBL does have the lists of the games available in all areas of the ACBL, including Canada and Mexico and travelers often check that list before indulging in more often summer traveling so that their afternoons and sometimes evenings can be planned in advance.

Clubs are developed, sometimes forced to move, but almost always available in almost every populated area throughout the country.

To repeat, any and every logistical problem is the responsibility of the individual club itself and although sometimes the integrity of the club (in the form of competency) is below standard, nevertheless it will exist and that fact stands supreme among the players.

You may interpret the above description as not feeling sorry for your dilemma, but sometimes compared to almost any town in the USA it is not unusual and has to be dealt with.

However, good luck to Hitchin BC in Herts (UK).

Where there is a will there is usually a way and in another entirely different meaning, always greedy relatives.

bobby wolffDecember 12th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Hi Jim2,

Right you are, but this time partner promised 5 instead of just 3+.

BTW, I got a nice letter back from Jeff Rubens, acknowledging the hand in question and will no doubt, use it in an upcoming Bridge World as a problem in his well read Master Solvers Club, although, depending on his lead time, it figures to be at least 6 months.

In any event I will forward all pertinent information, including the individual comments, when it is published (or possibly even before, if I get advanced notice).

jim2December 12th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I had a subscription to BW for many years. I fondly recall some of the stories and debates there featuring Oswald Jacoby, Alvin Roth, and others.

Eventually I gave it up due to a combination of cost and relevance. That is, less and less of the magazine interested me due to increases in text devoted to increasingly artificial conventions and systems. For example, I became unable to do Masters Solvers because things like the Wapscotch Cue would get the top score and I did not play it. Similarly, the bidding matches too often became things like pitting a relay system against Meckwell.

Still, maybe it’s time for me to revisit Bridge World.

Iain ClimieDecember 12th, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

Thanks for the good wishes but perhaps I can finish on a simple thought. With local facilities (not just bridge clubs but stores, gas stations, support groups, churches etc) the best advice for each is “Use it or lose it”. Hitchin’s problem irronically isn’t lack of support.



bobby wolffDecember 12th, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Hi Jim2,

The BW, edited by Jeff Rubens, has improved as a magazine, and I have not noticed recently complicated artificial systems being supported. Certain treatments, such as one under suits bid by top players in competition are, of course, reported in important events, but not emphasized as the wave of the future.

The individual articles seem to be well chosen, and although, no doubt, somewhat sophisticated, they make sense in most cases and, in addition, some nostalgia from bygone days are also included on a monthly bases.

The Master Solvers Club has improved as an overall enterprise since bygone days with more personal writing and critique and I say that with heavy heart, since I was involved with that for many years..

However, you alone need to be the judge of whether you think it wise and worth the cost.

Good luck in deciding what to do, but I would recommend it for no other reason other than to keep up with what is going on among the better players and to decide for yourself what needs to be done for you to want to play more than you probably have.

bobby wolffDecember 12th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, bridge all over the world remains an ultra popular pastime and in spite of sometimes not treating our tournament bridge properly (by either not playing often, or being too gruff when we do) it still has its every day loyalists who appear regardless of how they are treated.

You are so right in discussing other heretofore popular watering spots which, if discarded, will no doubt die out. Although change is sometimes good we should never disregard enterprises and traditions which have been kind to us through the years.

We should always remember that the more things (and times) change the more they stay the same and it is up to us to still respect and utilize stores, gas stations, religions and traditions which have all served to make our lives as glorious as some of us have experienced.

We should all understand and respect who brought us to the party and never forget it.

Thanks for the reminder!

Ted BartunekDecember 12th, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

If I can get back to a more mundane topic, on BWTA, without previous discussion, should a 5 Club bid here be considered a Pass or Correct? If so, what would be the difference in implication vs. bidding 4NT?

bobby wolffDecember 12th, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Hi Ted,

Unless there would be an opposite agreement decided in advance by that partnership, it should be thought that a jump to 5 clubs would be a pass or correct type action, since your partner’s normal meaning of his 2 spade cue bid would be the other major (hearts) and either minor, but not both.

On this hand, since a normal Michaels cue bid guarantees 5-5 or longer it seems safe (especially with such good hearts) to try to buy the hand at a 10 trick level instead of 11 and only by bidding 4 hearts can that be accomplished.

However, this is such a good hand that either 4 hearts or 4NT would be equally effective in order to get to what should be a very playable contract, and an expected make.

For what it is worth, I prefer playing Michaels as both the other major and always clubs so that when the opponents continue to raise or (worse) preempt to 4 of their major, partner will know which minor I hold rather than shy away because he cannot afford to be wrong if his partner (the Michaels bidder) has the wrong minor.

At least this suggested treatment has served me well (or so it seems) since it has happened several times over many years, but always with a good result, much better than those in the other room who play regular Michaels.

Oft times with both a major and diamonds it can alternatively be bid with the major first and then diamonds or, if the hand is good enough, double first and then perhaps bid later if partner does not join in first.

And if that is not enough science for you, then when the opponents, for example, open 1 spade and you, his LHO, overcalls 2 hearts and then it gets back to you with the level at 4 spades and your partner not participating, then if you have more diamonds than hearts say 5-6 first then bid 4NT to warn partner you have a 2nd suit (always, of course, a minor) which is longer than your 1st, hearts, so that he then bids his lowest playable minor (almost always without possessing 3+ hearts opposite your 4NT bid so that your partnership will be enabled to play the 6-3+ (sometimes 6-2) fit rather than risk a disaster with only a 5-2 heart fit.

Over many years that sequence has only come up 2 or 3 times but when it does, it is important to be playing it.

Aren’t you glad you asked?

Good luck!

Bill CubleyDecember 12th, 2012 at 9:57 pm


About bridge clubs. One important factor for me is does the owner show that he/she really cares. The owner should be ther an hour, not 15-20 minutes before session time. Start the coffee so customers can have some BEFORE game time.

I drive farther for games which start on time and the owner cares we are there. I bring my own and don’t pay for snacks which I also do not eat at other clubs.

I might have set Sidney who is a very good player on this hand.

The few British clubs I have been in had liquor licenses! You could have a beer before the game in the Young Chelsea BC.

Iain ClimieDecember 13th, 2012 at 12:24 am

Hi Bill,

Sadly (or perhaps fortunately – I rather enjoy beer, so bang goes the focus) not all British clubs have such licences. In addition, they are rarely owned by one person but more usually the club as a whole rents premises. There are exceptions e.g. Basingstoke Bridge Club in Hampshire was left a house (and extension with playing space) in someone’s will. As the building included some accommodation, the whole club is largely self-financing and has a bar.

If you ever find yourself in Hitchin, Basingstoke or most other clubs, you can still get a warm welcome. The supposed British reticence about talking to newcomers seems to disappear if we have a known topic of conversation.



bobby wolffDecember 13th, 2012 at 1:54 am

Hi Bill,

You are a throwback to the nostalgia which seems so long ago in bridge, dealing (excuse the pun) with fellow players who not only care about the beauty of the game, but also about each other and the rest of their lives.

In those years the common denominator and the discussions before and after the game were usually about this or that hand, but the feelings of the players continued to center on individual lives and not totally on who won or lost.

Bars in bridge clubs tend to bring out those personal feelings, but that was long ago and now our inspiration lies in the stardust of a song. Shades of Hoagy Carmichael! Play it again, Sam.