Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, January 11th, 2013

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow.

T.S. Eliot

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


When this deal came up a year or so ago in the later stages of a national knockout championship, I was surprised that neither declarer came a great deal closer to making his delicate game contract.

Both Wests led the spade king against four hearts and shifted to the club jack, at least reducing the total number of possible losers declarer had by one. Both declarers pulled out cards without any particular direction in mind, and eventually finished up by leading a diamond toward the king, thus going down one for a flat board. Running the diamond jack would not have worked any better, since East would have covered, of course.

Success requires nothing more than finding trumps not 3-0, with the clubs dividing no worse than 6-2 and the club 10 where you would expect it to be — in the West hand. The winning line is to cash the heart ace at trick three, then your remaining high club, before you cross to dummy with the heart king, drawing the last trump in the process.

Now you lead the club nine from dummy and throw your last spade away, endplaying West into winning and either leading a diamond, when you lose just to the ace, or playing a club. In that case, you pitch a diamond from dummy and play to ruff two diamonds in the North hand.

With no spade stopper, you cannot bid no-trump. Partner has asked you for a stopper rather than announcing that he has one himself. Therefore, you must support clubs instead. Be aware that although you have only two trumps, this holding is more than sufficient, given how strong your doubleton is. It provides far better support than three small trumps.


♠ 5 3
 A 10 9 5 4 2
 K 9 5
♣ A Q
South West North East
1 1♠ 2♣ Pass
2 Pass 2♠ 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 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


ClarksburgJanuary 25th, 2013 at 1:33 pm

In BWTA, with two suits not known to be stopped and the 2S call “asking” not “telling”, what about diamonds? Does North’s Spade bid imply a Diamond stop? In this sequence, would South bid NT with a Spade stop but no Diamond stop? i.e. can NS take their chances on diamonds not being a threat at NT?

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

With the BWTA, you ask all good questions and to the point.

With a bidding sequence such as with this BWTA, a cue bid in the opponents suit tends to always inquire, at least a priority for, a stopper in the opponent’s suit, in this case, spades. Sure, sometimes another suit (here, diamonds) is left unprotected, but the opening leader would never know it, even if true and the bidder has already probably shown where his length lies, so whether he becomes the opening leader or does his partner, both of their inclinations would tend toward leading what has been heard rather than veer off to another unknown attack.

Something to always keep in mind to which bright up-and-comers sometimes do not fully immediately realize is that bridge bidding, being limited in words (bidding) and therefore in scope (often, no room to describe everything necessary to know) then opt to try and focus on the more important information instead of what usually becomes the lesser risk.

No, North’s bidding does not necessarily imply a diamond stop, though he would often have one (or more) and yes, North would bid NT without a diamond stop and take his chances, along with partner, that if diamonds are unstopped, the opponents will not be able to take more than four of them, even if they boldly decide to lead one and partner has no (or not enough) help in that suit.

ClarksburgJanuary 25th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Mr. Wolff,
Thank you. Most helpful.
Supplementary question:
If the opponents have not bid, and there are two suits possibly not stopped, does bidding one of them now (at least purport to) show, naturally, a stop in the suit bid, but not the other?

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Hi again Clarksburg,

A general response to your question would certainly be, at least in some sequences, a bid of a 3rd suit would be at least some strength in that suit and yes, on some hands, partner would bid NT with at least one stopper in the 4th suit.

If he instead, then bid that 4th suit, it would be up to his partner, if NT was in the picture, to then bid NT with a stopper+ in that suit.

However, I must caution you that there are many reasons, too numerous to mention here, where bidding suits sometimes have nothing to do with wanting to play NT, but rather to determine fits and after so doing, then to cue bid controls on the way to games and slams.

Always remember, in order to gracefully learn to bid with any partner, both partners MUST be sure that one suit is agreed as eventual trump before cue bids or other game or slam tries, can be implemented.

The above is not as difficult or possibly as frustrating as it might appear and it would not take very long (perhaps only a month or two) for two players to develop at least a beginning partnership wherein they would develop an understanding about the difference in auctions and what is expected as well, of course, as what is to be learned during the bidding process.

From there, a hard working partnership can take off with a good potential landing in sight, as long as the basics of the above is understood. Do not run before you walk, nor walk before you crawl.

Iain ClimieJanuary 25th, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Hi Mr. Wolff,

On BWTA I take your point about the club support being sufficient but I’d be much happier with CAx and the DQ or HQ instead. My concern would be that the defence forces dummy early in a club contract so, unless partner has good clubs, trump control could soon become shaky.

If partner has (say) a singleton HK and perhaps S’xx or Qxx (angling for me to bid NT) we could bypass 4H or even 3NT if he took the club support too seriously. Is it worth considering a few example hands here? If he has 2H he’ll show that support next time, but it might be tricky to avoid 5C – any thoughts?


Iain Climie

Iain ClimieJanuary 25th, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Typo – ‘xx should be Kxx

bobby wolffJanuary 25th, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Hi Iain,

All your thoughts require well considered answers.

As a general rule it is good and more than that, expected, to bid where one lives. Such is the reason for choosing 3 clubs. Even though it is certainly possible for partner to have 3 little spades, but if so, and after his 2 spade forward going move, if he doesn’t also have both the KJ of clubs + the ace of diamonds and the king of hearts I will be both surprised and chagrined. It, of course, comes down to what the best final game contract should be, and I, for one, and only seeing my hand and hearing partner’s bidding would blindly choose 5 clubs as the most likely good one.

However, thankfully, I do not have to so choose now, but would think I am not cooperating with my trustworthy partner if I do not show him my key AQ of his obvious longest suit. Of course, sometimes no game contracts are laydowns, even if partner had the Qxx of spades (with the AK of spades likely, but not 100%, to be with the overcaller), but as Damon Runyon, the American poet said, “But that is the way to bet”.

I’ll, of course, await partner’s next effort, perhaps 3H (in which I’ll bid 4) 4C (to which I’ll bid 5) and, of course pass 3NT. If partner now bids 3 diamonds, I’ll raise to 4 diamonds as a cue bid, hoping for a final contract of either a small slam or, if partner so desires, a grand slam in clubs with Axx, K, Axx, KJ10xxx.

Granted, my hand was carefully chosen, but if partner sniffs at a slam (even a grand) I think I have the right cards to cooperate (especially that delicious club Q).

I only offer one man’s opinion, and I have been wrong before, and no doubt, will be wrong in the future, or else I would have either ceased playing or instead, be dealing with either harps or pitchforks.

Iain ClimieJanuary 26th, 2013 at 12:20 am

HI Mr. Wolff,

Many thanks for this and can I also quote an example of how not to bid slams from tonight (I’ve just finished). I held SJ9 Hxx DAKQJxx CA10x. Partner opens 1C (playing Acol and weak NT) RHO bids 1H I bid 2D and partner bid 2NT – clearly 15+ with a stop. We could be off two top hearts, and I’m playing with a once regular, but now occasional, partner but the urge was to bid 6NT (or maybe 4NT) here. Instead I marked time with 4D, partner bid 5D so (at pairs) I just bid 6NT on the basis that 3NT would make +1 or more so 5D making (or even +1 would be worth zilch).

Partner had SAKx HJ9xx Dx CKQJxx which wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. The opening lead of the HK found his partner with a singleton HA. There are times when there is no justice in this game (so I apologised to our oppo), but I think this could also be a case where the blame could be apportioned between us something like 75-55. Any thoughts? Obviously I could have bid a rather saner 3H or 4N over 2NT but I thought slam likely.

bobby wolffJanuary 26th, 2013 at 2:37 am

Hi Iain,

No doubt you showed good sportsmanship after such a lucky result, but for all people who live to certain middle to late years, the law of averages evens things out, and so it must be with you.

While between the two of you I have no real assessment of place the blame. Your partner was merely making a practical rebid, although he could have passed (and probably should have) but I think you should be content with a mere 4NT raise, giving him the space necessary to make up for his overbid. When trick taking hands like yours combine with tempting pushy type hands the result is often more a wishing well than a well bid hand.

The only caveat to come out of this venture is what the real game of bridge always represents, “It is the master and no one will be able to deny it”!

Good luck, chin up and enjoy your result instead of mourning it.