Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 7th, 2013

Whether ye may not hold
Secrets more dear than gold?
This is the ever new
Puzzle within your blue.

Charles Goodrich Whiting

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


Against South's contract of three no-trump, from a pair game, West obediently led the spade eight, and most declarers sensibly held up the spade ace for one round, but then took the second spade trick.

The contract could not be made without bringing in the club suit, so some players took the simplistic approach of playing ace, and another club to West’s king, whereupon 10 tricks rolled in.

At other tables the more astute Wests unblocked their club king under declarer’s ace, appreciating that their partner must hold the jack. Otherwise, why had South not entered dummy and led toward his club jack, to keep East, the danger hand, off lead?

Another declarer crossed to dummy with a heart at trick three, and led the club five, under which East sleepily followed with the three. Declarer played the eight, and West was forced to win with the king, after which there was no defense.

The unluckiest declarer of all crossed to dummy and led a small club. East inserted the 10 (which suggested ownership of the jack), and when South played the ace, West unblocked the king. Now the contract had to fail.

There is no guaranteed route to success. Best is for South to lead toward the club queen at trick three, and West must duck his king. Declarer puts up the queen and leads a low club from dummy, on which East plays the jack (NOT the 10). Now South has to guess whether to duck or win the trick.

With a balanced hand, after hearing a one-diamond response to one club, your best rebid is one no-trump rather than one spade. The one-spade call should show an unbalanced hand with at least four clubs. In fact, even with a 4-4 pattern in the black suits, you have the choice of rebidding one no-trump. The logic is that responder rates not to have a major or to have enough points to introduce a major over one no-trump.


♠ A 7 4 2
 Q 8 2
 Q 9 4
♣ A 8 4
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1 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


Patrick CheuMarch 21st, 2013 at 9:41 am

Hi Bobby, Your play of low to Queen of clubs (‘no guarantee of success’),has a lot going for it,cos East has not overcall a spade with KQJ109 and if he has the King of clubs he might have.Wonder how many of us dare duck the first club with K2 in the West hand? Ok,he did(!), and Qc wins,and now another club allows East to play the star part by playing the JC(fromJ10) to give declarer the impression that West held K102(!?).If declarer guesses wrong and play the Ace,East will still have his club entry. Bridge at a very high level!Regards-Patrick.

Iain ClimieMarch 21st, 2013 at 11:42 am

Hi Bobby, Patrick,

I know it doesn’t work as the cards lie, but East could have the DK. After a club to the Queen has held, he won’t enjoy 4 rounds of hearts at all. One other ghastly scenario that nobody has yet mentioned is that East has a singleton CK or could give that impression.

Suppose that declarer crosses to table with a heart and leads a small club on which East plays the K (from K10 or even KJ10 but holding the DK as well, when he knows the heart winners will mash him). Declarer now innocently plays a club to the 9 and the roof falls in. Any thoughts here?



jim2March 21st, 2013 at 11:49 am

Patrick Cheu –

East DID overcall one spade.

David WarheitMarch 21st, 2013 at 11:52 am

After south wins the second spade, he knows that east has 5 spades and west 2. He also knows that clubs must be 3-2 in order for him to make his contract. Therefore 7 of east’s cards are known and only 4 of west’s. This means that the odds of west having 3 clubs are 9 to 6 or 60%. So if east is good enough to play the jack of clubs on the second round of clubs (after south leads low to dummy’s queen as west ducks), the percentage play for south is to play the ace. Sure, that’s wrong on this hand, but my consolation is that I am paying off to brilliance on defence.

On BWA, wild horses could not get me to open the bidding on south’s hand. Eight losers, no spot cards, the worst possible distribution, and then opening the bidding in a suit which I don’t have–yuck! While I don’t play Roth-Stone, I do believe in having better hands than this to open the bidding. Even if south had a jack somewhere in place of a small card, I still would not open.

Shantanu RastogiMarch 21st, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Hi David

You seem to be a very sound opener. I would have opened 1 spade as with my current partner I play 4 card major system and 1 spade does look to me a good space taker. Bobby does provide us deals from real time and the bidding in most of them are hardly sound and seem to optimistically work for the deal though with one key card varying such bidding may turn disastrous. Playing 5 card majors I would agree with your decision to not to open.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Iain ClimieMarch 21st, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Hi David,
I think your BWTA advice is totally sound but it wouldn’t stop most Brits (feckless, reckless fools that we are) trotting out a weak NT at pairs, and there was even a vogue for 10-12 mini NT at one time. I must admit I’d be amongst the bidders on my bad days. Getting thumped for a number wouldn’t be bad luck though.

On the play hand, declarer can cope with some 4-1 club splits, especially if East has a singleton honour, but there is scope for delusion and deception.



bobbywolffMarch 21st, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Hi Patrick, Iain, Jim2, and David,

My above greeting makes me feel like a wholesaler, dealing with my most loyal friends as a group, who individually as well as collectively, contribute mightily to making bridgeblogging a success.

As usual, between the whole group, most of the possible contentious discussions on this hand have basically been dealt with. However, bridge being what it is, there still remains a chance for further comments.

Patrick, except for Jim’s correction of, yes East did overcall, still summed up the defense well, with East, of course putting up the Jack, from J10x, in order for declarer to not being able to duck the club, virtually without risk. That defense should win the annual award for the defensive play of the year (if it had happened), even though it stands out, but just because of the false card necessity for doing so.

However, bridge publicity being what it is, unless that play was made in a high level, well covered event, only the players in that game would be able to appreciate the beauty of it, since bridge is not yet at the far reaching, globe including, world wide transparency level of other sports, where even in high school some football, baseball, soccer, hockey, tennis, bowling, golf or basketball phenominal feat would be noticed and reported.

Iain’s contributions are mostly valid, except by considering them, the focus of the real club plays lose some of their significance and why would East ever falsecard the king of clubs when, by not doing so, he will look to be in the catbird seat by allowing declarer to sink his own ship by hoping for West to hold that monarch (unless of course the declarer also held the jack, which renders the whole process paid). I realize that the hand could get more complicated, involving the location of the king of diamonds and the possibility of a singleton king of clubs with East, but all those hypothesis merely cloud what plays better in Peoria as a simple theme (please excuse what could be considered an American expression not world wide known).

Since I already mentioned Jim’s important correction I will now skip over it and deal with David. I do agree with his first paragraph about, surely declarer will go wrong when faced with a low club to a winning queen in dummy and a club back with East playing the jack. Those same wild horses which David mentioned, probably couldn’t keep declarer from playing the ace and for the very reasons already mentioned. When a declarer starts playing the defense for such combined brilliance (although Easts play of the jack shouldn’t be regarded as such, it still wins the lottery on this hand).

However, I do disagree with his assessment of whether or not to open the bidding with South’s hand. While I cannot offer any specific proof nor overwhelming statistics, bridge has evolved from its beginnings with, at least to me, incontrovertible evidence of the advantages, not properly analyzed during the early years, of exactly what happens when a hand is passed instead of opening. Possibly because of the modern treatment of more preempts (and with less discipline) by the time too many auctions get back to the would be passer, the level will be too high to now venture forth making the opening thrust of bidding something, for whatever reasons (and there are more than many realize) comes to a better conclusion than originally conforming to old time standards.

Recently either Eric Greco or Geoff Hampson opened in 2nd seat with a mundane 4-3-3-3 ten count which now stands as a benchmark in just how far some top experts believe in the above advantage. It allows the opening bidder to strike the first blow in the race to find fits which is what the law of total tricks is all about. Sure, when the partnership hands do not have that fit, the result obtained will rank below what an original pass probably would have gained, but the entire nature of the game has changed (especially at the highest level, but with a few exceptions) and hold on to your bobsleds since this experiment in terror, is just getting underway.

From what I can see, and I have been around a long time, I agree with the above concept, although I do think that the low record for value, mentioned above, has now passed the fail safe level. Time alone will tell, but I will predict that the final result of this experimental stage will prove conclusively that anything resembling a close opening bid, also the same with making an original take out double with a balanced 12 or 13 count instead of meekly passing as long as the doubler has at least 3 cards in one or both unbid major suits. That 12 or 13 HCP’s fall to 10 or 11 when a 4,4,4,1 is held being short in the opener’s suit.

Instead of, in the distant past, during the speedway to being the first ones on the moon the bridge race has developed into a competition into finding possible fits in order to compete fiercely to be declarer rather than defender.

Jane AMarch 21st, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Those wild horses maybe should be in a stable because at least where I play, everyone I know would open the south hand. Two aces and 12 HCP seems like enough to me in this day and age of bid ’em up bridge. Years ago, maybe not. I also would respond one NT after partner bids a diamond because my partners and I bypass diamonds to bid a major if we have one, so a one NT response is what we would do in this case. If partner has more, all is good, if not, you either make one NT or the opps had something that chose not to mention and down one is “good bridge”, right? (Is that phrase really valid, however?)

I would not have overcalled one spade with the east hand however. It could be considered lead directing, but I think my partners deserve a better hand out of me that seven points and flat distribution to make an overcall, even with the boss suit. Just sayin”.

bobbywolffMarch 21st, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Hi Shantanu,

Your comment was not up when last I spoke.

Yes, I, too, am a fan of 4 card majors and feel that if played correctly (tending, with close choices) to open them with weaker opening bids, to take advantage of their preemptive effect on the opponents, but to not open them when holding a good hand, in order to have more bidding room, in case partner also has a decent hand, to reach the right contract.

In other words, a division of bidding slowly when we have enough ducats to eventually and scientifically reach the right spot as opposed to bidding higher faster when the opponents become a factor is my idea of maximum efficiency instead of like Al Roth used to trade upon, pretend like the opponents did not exist.

At least today, those opponents play too well in order to not go after them to make it more difficult for them to spin their web.

bobbywolffMarch 21st, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Hi Jane,

Obviously I agree with you about not waiting for way above average hands in order to saunter into the bidding.

However, in deciding to not overcall one spade, just think about today’s column hand, since without the spade overcall, and NT being eventually played by South, after he, not East had bid spades, think what a powerful defensive hand, with all its twists would have been missed.

Bid em high and occasionally sleep in the streets, but more often, bring home the bacon and sooth all those friendly wild horses you own.

Patrick CheuMarch 21st, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Hi Jim2, thanks for your correction,that’s got you back on the bandwagon!? 🙂 Best regards-Patrick

jim2March 21st, 2013 at 4:53 pm

(Patrick – 🙂 Actually, I was waiting to see if anyone would address the END of the hand. See, I found the hand still VERY interesting beyond the point where Our Host ceased the column.)

Let’s say West does find the KC duck (!) and East the JC insertion. Let’s say also that South makes the WRONG decision and plays the AC. West plays the KC (perforce) but South still does not know where the 10C is! That is, an expert West will always play the card s/he is known to hold when another of (now) equal value is held. That is, the KC and 10C are equals at this point and surely any West up to the KC duck would be up to playing it under the AC while still holding the 10C.

So, what does South do now?

It looks like South has a zero risk exploratory play: cashing the four rounds of hearts. East cannot throw a black card and so must pitch two diamonds. The key will be which diamonds.

To visualize the situation better, change East’s diamond holding to J105 or K65.

South might prefer to have the lead in the closed hand at this point, so maybe there is merit in cashing the hearts before leading the second round of clubs. Also, South gets a better count. Here, South would know West started with 7 minor suit cards and East 6 when club decision time came, rather than West 11 non-spade and East 8.

In any case, if the defense does execute all those great club plays and then South guesses wrong and KNOWS East has the boss club for a spade entry, the contract can still succeed in certain layouts. Declarer plays off hearts, and then plays diamonds. All declarer needs is for East to have been dealt either the KD or both the JD and the 10D.

If the KD, then the hearts squeeze out a spade winner. South now leads a club instead of cashing the AD, letting East cash the boss club and two spades before leading the the Board’s AD and the last club. Note that this scenario would happen even if Declarer did not know who held the master club. East’s spade pitch would be the give-away.

If East holds both the JD and 10D, then East will have to pitch one of them on the 4th heart and the other on the AD. Now, South’s QD and 9D will generate a trick against West’s Kxxxx.

(As a further aside, if your East does NOT have the master club but pitches a good spade anyway on the last heart inducing you to take 9 tricks when the field is making 10 because all other Wests fail to find the club duck, then it’s time to switch to Yahtzee.)

Patrick CheuMarch 21st, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Hi Bobby, any excuse to open on the south hand,12 or 11 is 12 or 11 they have not got and pard needs to know so the battle can commence,quick communication of info is necessary for success,and its up to our opponents to tell us what they have after the first salvo.The principle being get in quick and out quick, the idea is to deny space and time to our opponents if possible.Let them make the final decision of doubling or bidding on.This is bridge judgement and nobody gets them right all the time.Regards-Patrick.

Patrick CheuMarch 21st, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Hi Jim, you are back on track!Cashing four hearts is a key discovery play on the East hand.Glad I make that ommision of East bidding one spade this morning?!:-) Best regards-Patrick.

David WarheitMarch 21st, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Bobby: The only time I was ever in Peoria was in 1967 when I played in the National Intercollegiate Bridge tournament (No, we didn’t win), so there is bridge meaning to your choice of words!

Shantanu: You have listed the only good point about opening this hand: the preemptive value of opening 1S, and in third seat I would open 1S. This reminds me: when I sit opposite a new partner and he asks if I play 5-card majors, I reply: “No, I play 3-card majors, so let’s compromise and play 4-card majors.”

Why am I so adamant about not opening light: because time and again I see that the partner of the opening bidder never seems to allow for light openers and such pairs time and again bid too high. Even when there is some allowance for light openers, the range in opening 1 of a suit is so high, that it often becomes impossible to judge how high to bid or when to double one’s opponents. I play Benjamin 2 bids, always have, which greatly reduces the upper end of opening bids of 1 of a suit. Nobody plays opening bids of 1NT with a range of 8 to 10 points; why do so with opening bids of 1 of a suit?