Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, March 21st, 2013

A watcher, pale and tearful,
Looked forth with anxious eye.

Sarah Hale

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

*Clubs or balanced


At the U.S. Nationals in Memphis last spring, the Stratified Open Pairs threw up a deal with a point of interest in the play. After a highly informative auction, South reached three hearts on a fourth-highest club lead from West. Declarer won in hand and advanced the diamond queen to West’s king. Back came a second club, and South won the club return in dummy to play a second diamond. East won the ace and shifted to a low spade. What should declarer do now?

The auction had strongly suggested that West, because of his failure to act earlier was 4-6 in spades and clubs. He would surely have opened three clubs or stayed silent without a side-suit. And the logical second suit for him to hold had to be spades.

If that inference is sound, then the right line, which declarer missed at the table, is to win the spade ace, which he did. But then it was right to cash only one top trump, not both — after all, on our projected arithmetic, West could have at most one trump and South needs to retain a high trump in hand, as we shall see.

If South had done that, he could then have played the diamond jack, pitching a spade from dummy. Then he can ruff a diamond, ruff a club, and lead the fifth diamond to discard the other losing spade from dummy. If East ruffs in on the third club, South overruffs and leads the fifth diamond as before.

Whether you are playing two clubs as a game-force, or forcing for one round, there is little agreement as to how to proceed with strong balanced hands. My preference is to bid three no-trump with a strong no-trump equivalent, and rebid two no-trump with 12-14, or 18-plus, planning with the latter to bid on over a sign-off. So I would bid two no-trump, then bid on over a sign-off to show 18-plus (the choice is a conservative invitation to slam or simply driving to the six-level).


♠ A Q 6
 A K 6
 Q J 9 7 4
♣ K 6
South West North East
1 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


Shantanu RastogiApril 4th, 2013 at 9:24 am

Dear Mr Wolff

In bid with the aces if 2 Club is one round force then 2 NT of opener can be passed but you suggest that it can not be passed as it could be 18+ also. Also all strong balanced hands in 15-17 range now a days would be opened 1 NT even with 5 card Major or 6 card Minor so ideally a jump to 3 NT in the auction over one round force bids at 2 level by responder should show 18-19 balanced. I hope I’m not confused.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Iain ClimieApril 4th, 2013 at 9:41 am

Hi Bobby, Shantanu,

Weak NT players can avoid the BWTA problem by treating 1D 2C 2N as forcing and wide range (15-19 with 2N opening as 20-22). A rebid of 3N can then be based on no great interest in other contracts, perhaps based on a solid minor.

In terms of the initial 2 level response, I fell from grace las night. Holding Sxx Hx DQ9x CKQJ87xx I decided to risk 2C after partner’s opening 1H instead of bidding 1N. LHO bid 2S, P P to me so I tried 3C. Partner now came back to life with a 4441 13 count including CA singleton by trying 3N – not a success.

4C would have made, and we play 2-level replies as being a good 9 pts or better, so not game forcing, but I’d be interested in anyone’s views here. Both of us felt we’d tried a bit too much at pairs – but should I have bailed out anyway to 4C?



Shantanu RastogiApril 4th, 2013 at 9:41 am

Dear Mr Wolff

Additional query.

If 1D – 2NT is played as 11-12 balanced without 4 card major then 2 Club response over 1 D most likely would show 5 card suit so even with 13- 14 HCP opener would want to play game with good club fit. How does one do that as jump to 3 NT may 18-19 balanced and 2 NT may be tactical bid to play no trumps even with 12 HCP especially in pairs ?

Also to avoid all these problems isnt it better to play 2 over 1 bids as game force ?

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

Shantanu RastogiApril 4th, 2013 at 9:54 am

hi Ian

Looks to me that with the agreement that you’ve with your partner he should have passed 3 clubs as with more you could have either doubled or made a directional cue bid of 3 Spade for NT probe.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobbywolffApril 4th, 2013 at 10:03 am

Hi Shantanu,

You do bring up an age old seeming inconsistency in a standard system, not 2 over 1 forcing to game. For at least 30+ years I played a 4 card major system where a simple (non-jump) 2NT rebid over a 2 level change of suit showing a minimum hand and very passable. However that system, my all-time favorite, had different ways to show stronger, let alone much stronger hands (by opening a forcing 1 club). In a slightly different structure where 2 over 1 is not GF and, of course, playing 5 card majors, a preferred system of today, 2NT is indeed forcing except when the responder merely rebids his suit, similar to Iain’s question, therefore allowing 3 of the responder’s suit to be the final contract.

Not perfect, but playable and my guess is the standard for those who do not play 2 over 1 as an unconditional GF. Those who do have the advantage of keeping the bidding going until game is reached (and sometimes exploring what turns out to be a good slam, defined as one that makes), but also the disadvantage of only passing through the correct final contract on the way to one which figures to go set several tricks.

Nothing is perfect for all hands and so is left up to the discretion of the optimistic partnership who is always looking for ways to beard the lion.

bobbywolffApril 4th, 2013 at 10:17 am

Hi Iain,

While my sympathy goes with you in attempting to play with your long suit as trump (sometimes a simple maneuver and sometimes not so). you can always only regret your partner’s lone ace of clubs as only 1 club away from an apparent laydown game, but always remember (and never forget) that the game we play has a mind of its own and will determine who succeeds and who doesn’t.

Between you and Shantanu you have delved into both sides of the argument, and the only worthwhile advice I can give is not to do one thing or the other, just be right on all hands involving whether to attempt game or rather seek the safety of one’s long suit in order to score up a worth while part score.

If its consistency you and partner want, play 2 over 1 as a GF, which forces you (with long clubs or any other long suit, but practically nothing else) to first bid 1NT before waiting to bid your suit next, but to do that without playing the 1NT as forcing is risk taking and caused you to start out with clubs being your first choice.

Good intentions are always part of anyone’s hope, but sometimes bridge becomes unforgiving and therefore very frustrating.

bobbywolffApril 4th, 2013 at 10:24 am

Hi again Shantanu,

Do not play a jump to 3NT as 18+ since that hand is way too good opposite any sort of 2 of a new suit over a one bid opening in order to be able to afford losing exchanging information by bypassing the 2 and 3 level. Play a 2NT response at least a one round force enabling partner to much better describe his hand on his next bid.

Other problems, of course, need to be worked out and agreed to, but start with doing the above and you’ll be on reasonable ground after that.

Iain ClimieApril 4th, 2013 at 10:46 am

Thanks Bobby for the words of wisdom and thanks Shantanu for the sympathy. To be fair, it is a recent partnership (sadly his last partner died recently) and he has been used to playing something rather different until now. He is a really nice guy, though, and we’re both very phlegmatic about the odd problem. I’ve been to too many club funerals recently to let bad results worry me.



bobbywolffApril 4th, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Hi Iain,

Yes, certainly agreed that bad results are seemingly happening to your friends, not the ones only occurring at the table.

When one goes down at 4 spades, we will usually see him live to do it again or maybe even like magic, wonder of wonders, make the contract. The alternative so-called end play, always appears to be more profound, at least for the people left in and at his (her) wake.

Bill CubleyApril 4th, 2013 at 4:28 pm


I have found going slowly at first leads to many good slams that make as opposed to bashing and taking up bidding room. In this auction the responder did promise a second bid even if he/she rebids his/her suit.

Worst are the rubber bridge players who see only that making the current bid wins a game or the rubber. Made a strong jump shift and got left in 2 hearts – made 14 tricks. I behaved and did not swear at the Chaplain for this. 😉

Hard to believe, but I do have a pretty solid 30 reputation with my regular pards for bidding slam for tops. One key is letting partner play them. The slam score goes to both of us so I never care who plays the slam.

Hope you and Judy are well.

bobbywolffApril 4th, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Hi Bill,

It’s always good to hear from you.

Yes. there are plenty of books based on misfits, not the comparison of two hand misfits, but rather the people playing there.

Bridge at Ruff’s club, Why you lose at Bridge (SJ Simon), Bridge Humanics (Easley Blackwood), and of course, the Victor Mollo menagerie.

All the people you depict, especially the rubber bridge characters, are well represented. And BTW, being a good slam bidder is high on the list of exceptionally good bridge players, so do not lose your touch. And to let them play and make a well bid slam is the height of valor and discretion, one which will eventually make you a highly sought after partner.