Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, December 13th, 2012

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

T.S. Eliot

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


At the table South knew that his partner's four-club bid would deliver a degree of spade fit and suitability for slam, and he gambled that he would be able to discard diamonds from dummy on his hearts, or that a well-placed queen would give him a finesse for slam.

A casual onlooker might take a cursory glance at today’s deal and remark on the dangers of reaching a grand slam that appears to hinge on a finesse. You would be right in theory, of course, but wrong in practice. The grand slam comes closer to an 85 percent chance if properly handled. With that hint, let’s reassess declarer’s best line on the lead of a top club.

The play is to take the club king with the ace, then ruff a club with the queen, followed by the spade ace, and the spade six to the nine. When trumps behave, as they will do at least two-thirds of the time, you take a second club ruff, then play a heart to the 10, take a third club ruff, and finally lead a diamond to the ace.

At this point South’s diamond loser can be discarded on the spade jack and the last four tricks are taken with South’s 100 honors in hearts.

This line of play is known as a dummy-reversal, in that by ruffing in the long hand you get six trump tricks where only five had seemed to exist. If trumps break 4-1, you take the diamond finesse, of course.

It is normally correct to run from one no-trump doubled when you know your side has the minority of high-cards. That is not so here, and with your values in the only suit that the opponents have shown, you have no particular reason to be afraid of any suit. Pass, and allow your partner to decide whether to run or not.


♠ 5 3
 9 6 4 3
 K 8 7
♣ 8 6 3 2
South West North East
1 1 NT Dbl.

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 27th, 2012 at 11:01 am

Hi Mr. Wolff,

The hand is interesting, and a classic case of a dummy reversal, but can I raise a couple of hideous possibilities which might afflict S J Simon’s “Unlucky Expert” or Mollo’s Karapet. The first (long odds against I admit) is that trumps are 5-0 but the diamond finesse is right, around 2%; all you can do is scream inwardly or mouth something unprintable at the ceiling. The second is in the bidding.

Suppose that North holds (say) SJ9x Hxxx DQJx CAKxx and bids 5D over 4NT. East doubles it (with either diamond honour) and bang go the first two tricks against 6S. Is there a case for South bidding just 4H over 4C and then taking the plunge when North bids 5D? After all North may have a shaky second round control (e.g. DK10x) when slam by South is only 50-50 on a diamond lead. If North (lacking DA) had bid 4S over 4H, South can now bid 5C but North can now punt 6NT with a suitable hand or give up in 5S with 2 diamond losers. Having said that, I would take a lot of persuading there was no grand slam with the North hand if my partner opened 2C.

Any thoughts here?


Iain Climie

Patrick CheuDecember 27th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Hi Iain, when east doubles 5d, south maybe redouble to show no control that is ROPl, redouble=0, pass=one control?King or Ace.I am sure our host will enlighten us-Patrick.

Jane ADecember 27th, 2012 at 4:32 pm

I have been told by a number of good players that it is not wise to open a big two suiter with two clubs because the second suit easily gets lost. How do you feel about this? It also seems a bit risky to bid a grand off two kings. Six NT is there on any lead. I can envision several bidding sequences after south opens one spade that finds the NT slam.

It is always interesting to see how very challenging bids can be made, but would you recommend bidding a grand with the south hand? I would have asked about kings. Off one. not so bad, off two? Opps! Yes, the true bridge brains would have made it. They better make it since they bid it, right? Thanks, as always!

bobbywolffDecember 27th, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Hi Iain and Patrick,

My enlightenment, if any, will only be that
South, although he had a very tempting hand to open a forcing to game hand with, should, after he does so and the bidding proceeds as mentioned, bid only (as you suggest) 4 hearts over 4 clubs, understanding that a Blackwood (BW) bid, at this point is against all rules of that particular convention.

Those rules, written somewhere, but not recollected verbatim by me, are that a BW user should never use that bid, holding two or more losers in any one suit, which has not been cue bid by partner. In addition, a short cut explanation of the use of any ace asking bid, (BW or Gerber) is that anytime either of those conventions should NEVER be used to get to a slam, but rather to keep out of one if two aces (or in key card BW) the king of trumps being treated the same as an ace (not always effective) and once it is determined that the partnership is only absent one or fewer aces or key cards, then is committed to bidding at least a small slam, and if no key cards or missing than probably usually continuing to explore for a grand slam (via 5NT or somesuch).

The above is (at least as far as I know), more of a commandment than a law and should never be intentionally violated.

Thanks, Iain, for your pointed, but 100% doubt, of the proper use of an ace asking convention. Sometimes, as a writer, when reporting an actual hand, we do not have enough space available to discuss nuances of actual bidding choices of the players, so that peripheral subjects are not brought up, but certainly this blog site is the very place they should be discussed.

Patrick,while I have never heard of ROPI (possibly since the occasion for it, at least with this bidding sequence) should never rise I will have to think about it more to give proper consideration, but until someone can produce some literature about it, I think it not necessary.

Little by little, and with enough thought, together, we can do great things, at least on the bridge theory subject.

bobbywolffDecember 27th, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Hi Jane,

While the advice given you by excellent players is more on target than off, there are exceptions and I believe today’s column hand includes one of those.

A good rule to implement regarding that above advice is that if one’s point count totals 19 or more, it then becomes realistic to worry about partner having the usual 6 high card points to keep the bidding open, therefore militating toward deciding on opening a GF, instead of a 1 bid.

The above is, at least, a small reason, for some of the very high level players reducing a 2NT opening to a minimum of 19 since when only a one bid is opened, sometimes, although rarely, a good game may be missed.

No doubt when two (or even more so, three) suits are held, the partnership will need plenty of bidding room (advantaged by opening at the one level instead of two) and is the main reason for the expert advice. However, as usual, with our great game, there are factors on both sides, and those nuances need to be considered. On today’s hand with game so likely in either spades or hearts, it is (at least to me) a slam dunk to start with a GF opening.

The trick for any wannabe great player is not only to take advice from the highest echelon of players, but to also inquire into the thinking (both pro and con) which, after all, will determine their decision making.

Thanks always for your thought provoking bridge discussion.

Patrick CheuDecember 27th, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Hi Bobby, If I was playing against a strong team I would like to be in 7s,that heart suit coupled with nearly all my points in the majors meant that my pard 2nt of 8-10 should be in the minors, that gives 7s good chances of success unless North’s diamonds are AJ10x in which case it depends on his heart holding,xx or x will still have a chance, but not xxx.The strong team may bid the grand wishes -Patrick.

Patrick CheuDecember 27th, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Hi Bobby, the south hand is three loser hand and opposite a yarborough, if dummy has some spades n hearts it is worth game-Patrick.

Patrick CheuDecember 27th, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Hi Bobby, is it possible for North to bid 2d and catch up later by cue bidding?South may not quite believe…? Patrick.

bobbywolffDecember 27th, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Hi Patrick,

While your competitive instincts are very positive and your desires super optimistic, both great qualities, sometimes, in order to at least be in the ballpark one has to be in a better percentage position to even consider bidding a grand slam when holding the strong hand and being opposite a passed partner.

Bob Hamman’s famous remark “Partner, please do not play me for a perfect hand, because I will never have it” is on point, and obviously once or so, perhaps in heaven and on a glorious day, partner will, top teams are not that hard to defeat, where random stabs involving perfection, need to be taken.

It is far more likely that young aggressive competitors, by just bidding and playing that way for most of the match, will win without the necessity for off-the-charts luck to intervene.

The more you try and analyze today’s column North hand the more you will realize how lucky it was to have the 10 of hearts for an entry, the jack, nine of spades and the fallback position of the diamond finesse available in case of a dreaded 4-1 break in trumps.

“Be optimistic”, but not so much that you, the pilot, find it necessary to come in on one wing and a prayer.

Patrick CheuDecember 27th, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Hi Bobby,your comments are much appreciated,and T.S Eliot is the only poet I have read again and again though I do not understand poetry.Lol-Patrick.