Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Pigeons on the grass alas.

Gertrude Stein

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



Gertrude Stein’s last words were, reputedly, “What is the answer? . . . What is the question?”

Take that as your mantra for the next problem, set by Kit Woolsey from the second round of the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams. You lead a third- and fifth-best club eight against three spades, to discover dummy has been playing a little joke. His two-no-trump call (simulating invitational values or better) succeeded in keeping your side out of the auction.

Your club lead goes to dummy’s nine and partner’s ace. Back comes the heart nine (which conventionally shows zero or two higher honors) to declarer’s ace. He plays a second club, and you win the king to continue hearts. Declarer wins in dummy, cashes the club queen to discard a heart, then plays a spade.

Partner shows out, discarding the diamond queen, so you take declarer’s spade king with your ace. There seems no point in underleading the diamond ace, since declarer cannot have a guess in the suit, so you cash the diamond ace and play a diamond, locking declarer in dummy. How does South get back to hand safely for the spade finesse? Declarer is going to ruff a club to hand (having registered your club spots and that your partner took the ace at trick one) unless you dropped the club jack under the queen a few tricks ago!

Woolsey found the play and declarer went with the odds when he tried to ruff a heart to hand. The overruff meant he was down one.

When you hold a 10-count facing an overcall, you typically have a choice between a simple raise and a cuebid, the latter showing a limit raise or better. But not all 10-counts are created equal — and this is a very inferior example of the species. With no controls, and soft cards in the side suits, a simple raise to two hearts will more than suffice here.


♠ Q 7 6 4
 K 7 3
 K 5
♣ Q 10 9 5
South West North East
1 1 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 2013. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


Iain ClimieApril 5th, 2013 at 10:53 am

Hi Bobby,

A couple of thoughts on today’s play hand. Firstly, did Kit play the H5 on the H9 thus not showing the doubleton? Secondly, North’s ploy is quite common so what would you recommend as a counter here? Given that NS are very unlikely to stop in 2N, double could be used to show a hand which would have doubled 2S, a balanced hand of specified strength or even a 2 suiter (as here) of moderate strength. Ideas could be combined e.g. Double is a strong balanced hand or a moderate 2 suiter.

Any recommendations here?



Michael BeyroutiApril 5th, 2013 at 11:52 am

Wow! Excellent defense Kit Woolsey. One thing to discover this in the postmortem and another is to find the play at the table. I am assuming this brilliant falsecard earned him a small swing since his teammates presumably bid and made 3S.
Even without North’s “little joke” it’s quite tough for E-W to enter into the auction when South opens 2S and North raises to 3S. Iain’s suggestions are interesting…
Best regards Mr Wolff.

bobbywolffApril 5th, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Hi Iain,

You’ve always had a penchant for getting to the nuts and bolts of sticky situations, certainly including this real life episode.

First, no doubt Kit probably played the five, not the jack, since, in these situations partner will always, assuming he would like to know, garner what is going on, by the way declarer, particularly a competent one, goes about playing the hand. It is almost always a better guide to particular table distribution than all the count signals available employed, all rolled into one, not to mention that sometimes a defender has to protect his high card(s).

Your second query should even open wider doors to high level competition and start shedding myths perpetrated by bidding specialists who lack being in the trenches experience, although not applicable to Kit Woolsey in this case.

Sure East, being void in spades could come into the bidding with his distributional values, but from his point of view (and from the known fact of his opponents not being vulnerable) seems to put him in an awkward situation, having, of course, some offensive weapons, but because of partner’s pass over 2 spades, together with North’s forcing ask, would cause him to believe that the opponents are not going to be outbid, even if EW’s side finds a fit (perhaps not true as a very high sacrifice at the seven level over a cold six spades, but even that thinking has Alice in Wonderland components). And how about his bid giving away which opponent has the spade void when it comes time for the play, perhaps the only really critical information involved with the whole hand?

The answer, at least to me, is for West to come in immediately with his 14 points, bite the bullet and overcall my choice of 2NT, in spite of being a card short of having enough values. While others might think differently, I think it is much too dangerous to pass, rather than bid, and would never volunteer, particularly against clever sneaky opponents, a wimpy pass for fear of what did happen.

All of us should learn and Kit is among the best, that whatever is done on close hands is a significant risk and choosing a conservative course, although right sometimes, is wrong more than it is right when the opponents are capable of creating a smoke screen. Furthermore, even when it is wrong and North has almost all of the power there is a good chance that your side will be able to wiggle out of danger with some hoped for minor suit fit. Also from an evaluation standpoint and when the remaining values from North and East are mostly split the jack of spades is a key card which could lead to a made game (usually 3NT) with fewer than the 26 HCP’s often required.

In any event, West bidding 2NT is my recommendation on this hand and after that with East’s spade void, perhaps 4 hearts will be the final contract and if so, good luck in the form of the 3-3 trump split will, no doubt see the game home. Again bridge is essentially a bidder’s game and, at least to me, not bidding immediately sometimes puts paid to a bad result and perhaps my judgment turns optimistic when I see a key suit breaking 3-3, but in actuality I am a bold initial bidder and think the overall results prove that it works more often than it doesn’t.

You inquired and so have received, albeit controversial!

Iain ClimieApril 5th, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Hi Bobby,

Many thanks for this – much to
ponder but the general lesson is clear enough and I’ll get stuck in!



TedApril 5th, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Hi Bobby,

Would it make sense when the opponents have preempted and found a fit (or implied one as here) to play a 3NT bid by East as a two suited takeout? Unless one had a long running minor and a certain stopper, there are probably not many hands where you’d want it as a natural bid.



bobbywolffApril 5th, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Hi Ted,

While your intent is both creative, therefore fashionable, and relevant, the hand possibly for it to be presented directly in front of our eyes, we do not want to give up a natural 3NT, since North’s 2NT could, especially among sophisticated expert (though legally devious) disrupters, be psychic, and at a different time would present a hand, such as the one you mention, or even a basically balanced hand, but probably with at least a solid 5 card+ suit, where one would cry out to be able to just bid 3NT to play, e.g. s. AQ, h. Kx, d. AKQJx, c. Axxx and to take away that choice could easily be devastating to that partnership.

My comments were not meant to discourage your bridge imagination, only to suggest that, almost always, when opponents attempt to throw tacks on the road, the opposing possible victims need to have as clear a path as possible to seek solutions and just to be enabled to be able to bid 3NT to play is perhaps the greater protection.

bobbywolffApril 5th, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Hi Michael,

Yes, Kit’s falsecard gambit is one of his trademarks as he is very quick on the uptake, in this case quickly understanding that a possible trick giveaway by him is irrelevant, but rather declarer’s safe passage back to his hand is center stage in determining declarer’s result, therefore making his presence at the bridge table dangerous to the health (and eventual finish) of his declarer opponent.

Quick thinking and numeracy talent are each important factors in becoming a “lights out” bridge player and when combined, as are Kits, does not bode well for his opponents.

TedApril 5th, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thank you for your comments. In no way discouraging; I was simply looking for your thoughts on the relative usefulness/frequency of the strong 3NT vs a 2 suited takeout in these situations.



Bob HerremanApril 14th, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Admiration !