Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

The best things carried to excess are wrong.

Charles Churchill

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


Defending against four hearts, West led the club king, then thoughtfully shifted to the spade jack, appreciating that he would need to set up winners for his side before declarer could establish the diamond suit for discards.

South played low from dummy and won his spade ace. It looked logical to draw trump next, then play a spade to the king, followed by another spade. East won the trick and exited with the spade nine, ruffed by declarer in dummy.

Declarer could now deduce that West had a singleton diamond and so played a low diamond from dummy. If West won the trick, he would have to concede a ruff-and-discard by leading a club, whereas if East rose with the diamond king he, would be the one endplayed.

Note that East might have exited with the fourth diamond instead of leading the fourth spade. Now to make the contract, declarer must duck this trick, which will leave West endplayed to give the ruff-sluff again. If declarer takes the diamond ace, then East will be able to get in again and cash his two winners.

The contract can be defeated only by an initial spade lead. (However, the play is quite complex if declarer wins the spade king, draws trump, then plays a club. The defenders must win and play a diamond, and when declarer takes the trick and plays a spade, East must go up with the queen to swallow his partner’s 10.).

Whatever form of scoring is in use, and whatever the vulnerability is, this is a hand where you want to balance to show the majors, using DONT, Cappelletti, Landy, or Meckwell. Passing out one no-trump rates to see declarer wrapping up seven-plus tricks on a minor-suit lead. Facing any sort of fit in hearts or spades, you won't go for a number — and might make your contract.


♠ A 7 4 2
 Q J 10 6 4
 8 7 3
♣ 9
South West North East
Pass 1 NT Pass 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


Bob HerremanMarch 19th, 2013 at 10:49 am

A real beauty !
Thanks Mr Wolff.

Bob HerremanMarch 19th, 2013 at 10:52 am

Mr Colchamiro will not agree on this one. Or does he ?

bobbywolffMarch 19th, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Hi Bob,

Yes, referring to this hand as a real beauty is a tribute to Crocodiles since it is possible that the Crocodile coup, defined as a defensive maneuver to foil an impending endplay, could be used in three suits, spades, diamonds and maybe even clubs (rising with the queen by East).

I cannot answer your question about whether Mel will agree on this one or not.

Iain ClimieMarch 19th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Hi Bobby,

I think the BWTA is OK as most low-level doubles (even after an opening 1NT) are taken out. Twas not ever thus, however.

Many years ago I played that the partner of an opening weak NT in 1st position should always run via stayman if balanced and weak before the doubles started, so 1N P P showed something. There was also some inference of high cards on the sort of sequence shown. We regularly picked up +200 or more when the opening bidder reached for the big stick on this sort of sequence, but obviously such agreements must be announced. They do “up the ante” especially at pairs.

To what extent do you think that the benefit of the modern trend of TO doubles here outweighs fewer penalties – or has it helped at all if the opening bid is 1N? The tendency to bid on ever less can rebound.



Patrick CheuMarch 19th, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Hi Bobby, If a spade is led, declarer wins with king of spades,and draws trumps, and plays the Ace of spades and a spade,East wins,and plays a fourth spade ruff in dummy.Declarer exits with a club,say West wins and plays QD,again West is endplayed.If East wins the third spade and switch to a low diamond(!),to West’s QD(ducked by declarer) and West switches to a low club(!!) and East wins QC, and plays KD,the contract is off.Declarer by playing the Ace of spades to cater for the unlikely J10 opp Q985 here,means perfect defence is called for,or the right card is needed in the East hand,namely the Queen of clubs and Queen of diamonds with West.Regards-Patrick.

bobbywolffMarch 19th, 2013 at 11:43 pm

Hi Iain,

You asked the question, I’ll attempt to tell you, as an administrator, my opinion.

TO doubles instead of penalty doubles, allow greater flexibility by both the partner of the NT opener and their opponents and possibly, because of that are now preferred at especially the higher levels of the game.

However, my judgment suggests that all the players are doing is trading guesswork for other forms of subjective reasoning. However the major change is that table ethics takes on greater meaning, if for no other reason than it is sometimes very easy for one player or another to play his partner’s random double for penalties.

When those partnerships consistently guess right as to what partner meant, there is always reason to think that there may have been some, at the very least, borderline clues such as tempo or emphasis to help partner decide. I do not have an overall solution to counter the advantage seekers, but experience does indicate that questionable ethical partnerships are soon set apart from others and, at that level become known.

It is certainly not a perfect world and all we can hope for is that all top players love the game enough to, if anything lean over backwards not to take any advantage of what could be considered a tell. On the surface I am pretty naive, but at the table and especially when I was active on appeals (seemingly always chairing the committees) trends do develop, partnerships are then talked to by me, and, at least 10+ years ago ethics improved. I do not know what has happened since then, but do wish that ethics have continued to be respected, because without them, our game will not eventually survive.

bobbywolffMarch 19th, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Hi Patrick,

You, of course, have analyzed the crocodile coup hand very well and nothing more needs to be said.

Table judgment, as usual, tends to separate the good from the very good and so it goes. At a certain level, fairly high, everyone knows what is involved and it becomes a guessing game trying to predict where the important cards and distribution are and play or defend accordingly.

Shantanu RastogiMarch 20th, 2013 at 4:39 am

Hello Mr Wolff

Interesting hand. Some top class defending is needed to defeat the contract. But if one is playing against top class defenders is there an academic possibilty of South passing North’s double and collecting his 500 and be happy. At best he loses 3 IMPs and if his partners are as good a defender then a swing of 12 IMPs.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobbywolffMarch 20th, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Trying to cut immediately to the chase, the problem with even considering passing 4 clubs doubled for penalties is that there is such a large range of hands North may have for his take out double, that often 10 or 11 tricks (sometimes only 9) will easily be taken by South in hearts (opposite a normal TO double by partner) while at the same time the opponents, because of their long clubs and perhaps some fortunate distributional advantages combined in their two hands to allow them to take at least 8 tricks on up to 10 (4 clubs doubled, making) convincing all of the top level bridge community to NEVER risk such a horrible ending for their side.

True, when one sits down to play bridge, many hands (probably most, have serious risks as part of the equation), but since distribution plays such an important part in overall bridge judgment, it is unanimously agreed by our bridge elite that taking a risk like passing partner’s TO double holding only a singleton in the opponent’s suit is equivalent to a form of committing bridge suicide and thus to be immediately ruled out.

I apologize for being so strong, but for me to temper my opinion would mean that I was doing you (and perhaps other readers) a serious injustice.

Shantanu RastogiMarch 20th, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Hello Mr Wolff

I know passing would invoke strong words and that is why I wrote academic as normally nobody would pass with singleton. Perhaps a better deal would have been if West opens 4 Spades and North doubles. Would it be suicidal again to pass with the same heart holding and clubs and spades interchanged ? Would the North’s double in such case show a strong NT pattern or would it be with shortness also ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobbywolffMarch 20th, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Hi again Shantanu,

If holding s. x, h. QJ10xx, d. xxx, c. Axxx as South and hearing it go 4 spades by West, double by partner, it is still clear cut, at least to me, to bid 5 hearts and take our chances there instead of passing 4 spades doubled.

Partner should have heart support and although both 5 hearts and 4 spades may both goi down 1, making the result better by passing, the amount of gain principle, applicable to all rubber bridge and IMP bridge games should suggest that bidding has more to gain than losing, since if either 5 hearts makes and/or so does 4 spades there will be a big IMP loss by not bidding.

Also remember that even if both sides should go set, sometimes a bad opening lead or later defensive errors may allow one contract or the other to see itself home. Then add in the possibility that the opponents will now bid 5 spades as a sacrifice against what at least, one of your opponents thinks is going to be a 5 heart make, and it even increases the favorable odds by bidding 5 hearts

Bridge is basically a bidder’s game, especially among very good players since declarer play is easier than defense and the opening lead is blind.

Enough said.