Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, April 15th, 2013

I let my golden chances pass me by.

Oscar Hammerstein

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


Today’s deal comes from a correspondent, more in sorrow than anger, who has asked me not to name him – or his errant partner. The opportunity for a “free finesse” seemed too good to miss for South on this deal. He had been given a far better chance of making our game than he deserved!

When West opened three clubs and East raised to five clubs, South should have doubled, after which North would have bid five hearts and might have struggled after a club lead.

But instead of doubling, South made the undisciplined bid of five hearts and everybody passed. West led the spade two and, rather naively, declarer tried dummy’s jack. He won East’s queen with the ace and drew trump; but there was no way for him to avoid the loss of a spade and two diamonds when the spades broke badly.

As North subsequently indicated, West had surely not made an opening lead from queen-third of spades. If you assume that the lead rates to be from shortage, the rest of the play is easy. You play low from dummy, win with the ace, ruff the two losing clubs in dummy while drawing trump, then get off lead with ace and another diamond. The defenders can take their two diamond tricks, but if West is left on lead, he has to concede a ruff and discard; and, if East wins the third diamond, he can do no better than lead a spade into dummy’s tenace.

While a heart lead is highly unlikely to be necessary, a case could be made for any of the other three suits. A club lead is the most passive, a spade lead the most active, while your diamond sequence suggests it is the one lead that combines aggression and safety. So I would lead a diamond honor, probably the king, unless our partnership defined that as promising three of the five top honors.


♠ A 9 4 2
 K 10 7 5
 K Q 2
♣ 9 7
South West North East
Pass 1♠ Pass 1 NT
All 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


Iain ClimieApril 29th, 2013 at 9:29 am

Hi Bobby,

A quick question on West’s pre-empt today. Would you open 3C (which leaves the opposition more room to come in) or 4C (which bypasses 3N but might be justified given the shortage in both majors and the extra shape of 1147)?


Iain Climie

bobbywolffApril 29th, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Hi Iain,

Good question and I will attempt to answer it.

When vulnerable it is just a trifle too much to open 4 since, if doubled, sometimes his partner will pass with nothing in trumps, perhaps even 2 little and succeed in taking defensive tricks with aces and kings, and if partner has a misfit with length in both majors, chances are the opponents have made the right decision, especially if their diamond holding bodes ill for your side.

However, when NV I would always open 4 clubs even though that also may be wrong when partner has the king of clubs and major suit stoppers, but 3 losers with clubs as trump.

My choices are to always open 4 clubs NV and even vulnerable when both sides are vulnerable and in 3rd position (since 3NT becomes an unlikely correct contract). but otherwise to open only 3 when vulnerable.

All of the above is only opinion and on any one hand anything may and often does surprise.

As a final suggestion, vary one’s tactics while playing against known opposition since bridge is sometimes like poker in trying to outwit good opponents.

Iain ClimieApril 29th, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this. Is there any merit in transfer pre-empts (which I used to play with a strong club system and also with a natural system with a multi)? If I remember rightly an opening 3N showed a 4-level pre-empt in a minor, 2N showed a single suited minor 3-bid, 3C a minor 2-suiter, 3D and 3H showed the next suit and 3S showed a solid minor (as per the old gambling 3N opner in Acol. 4C and 4D were good maajor suit pre-empts while 4H and 4S were weaker ones.



bobbywolffApril 29th, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Hi Iain,

All of what you say is IMO superior to what standard usually suggests. More room to exchange information, bridge legal, and, of course, more confusing to the opponents

Let us say that taking everything into consideration (practically impossible, but can be estimated) that your methods are 20%+ better than standard, then if accurate, and if both partners playing them have each less than a 10% chance (9 out of 10) of not only remembering the meanings but also have a meeting of the minds as to values on each deviation from standard, then your results should improve.

My pessimistic opinion suggests that, at least the growing pains while getting used to the new methods, together with the above caveats, will overcome the hoped for advantages to be gleaned.

However, experiment with it and let me know ASAP your result. If anyone can succeed you and your chosen partner can, and rest assured, I am rooting for both of you.

Jane AApril 29th, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Hi Bobby,

This question has nothing to do with the hands of today, but for lack of a better place, I will ask it here. The other day at the club, some questions came up about mid chart conventions and where they are allowed to be used. I know our local clubs do not allow them, and I am not sure what a mid chart convention really is, other than I know I don’t play any of them. Well above my pay grade, I have no doubt. Are mid charts allowed at regionals, and if so, in what type of events? I assume just about anything goes at nationals, but are there any restrictions at nationals? Does a pair playing mid chart conventions have to pre alert them? Could you name a couple? No need to go into any kind of explanation, just a name would do and I can look it up somewhere.

Idle curiosity more than anything. Thanks.

bobbywolffApril 29th, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Hi Jane,

First, I am not an expert, nor anywhere near, on what is allowed where or when.

However, I could suggest what might be true:

Mid chart conventions should be allowed in long (32+ board KO’s at Natiionals or perhaps even at Regionals if the tournament site OKs them. It is entirely possible that the local site would have the authority to lower that 32 board requirement to 24) especially in the top bracket of KO’s.

The idea of not allowing particular conventions is to insure that relatively inexperienced players may be protected from feeling intimidated by having others use artificial methods. and especially so unless the unique systems and conventions played are both carefully explained as to why they are being played and also the best defense (by the users) with, if necessary other very high-level players in attendance available, to make sure no hanky panky is present in their answers.

Even at World Championships, very highly unusual methods (HUM) are not allowed in short matches, but if the conditions for playing them are met, they may be in long KO matches, but sometimes with the loss of seeding, allowing their opponents to have a specific pair available who is always allowed to play against those systems, freeing the other pair(s) on that team from having to deal with it.

A campaign which I long have led against allowing such aberrations is not to set bridge back, nor to interfere with bidding experimentation, but rather to prevent undue intimidation. My criteria would be before any unusual type method is allowed, it must be presented to a very experienced high-level group for approval.

However we are only talking about mid-chart conventions, not anything less likely to be approved such as destructive conventions used against opponents who have the good hands.

As additional education on this subject, artificiality by strong hands with the intent of only being better able to bid strong hands in a superior manner should be allowed with the defense to such bidding merely doubles of artificial bids suggesting the lead of that suit. Nothing sinister is present by allowing that.

But when artificiality involves disrupting the opponents on their hands the line is crossed and average players on down, should not have to be subject to such shenanigans.

The above is no where near a complete discussion of this troublesome subject, but anything more will just be confusing.