Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, April 18th, 2013

She was worse than a blabber; she was a hinter. It gave her pleasure to rouse speculation about dangerous things.

Robertson Davies

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


When the Open Teams of France and Portugal met in the 2010 European Championship, France squeaked home, but Portugal scored well on this board. In the Open Room, Herve Vinciguerra for France opened one club as dealer, and Eric Eisenberg responded one spade. West doubled and East bid two diamonds. South's two spades closed the auction, and declarer emerged safely enough with his partscore.

In the Closed Room, Portugal’s Juliano Barbosa opened one club, like his French counterpart. But here, Antonio Palma speculatively jumped to four spades on his seven-loser hand. West, Alain Levy, with the strongest hand at the table, doubled, and East, Paul Chemla, let it ride.

West led the heart king, which Palma won in dummy. He called for the spade nine and when this held, followed up with dummy’s second trump to his 10, West showing out. On the club five, Levy rose with his ace, then cashed a heart trick. Knowing from East’s carding that nothing more was available in that suit, West switched to a tricky diamond jack. Unfazed, Palma called for dummy’s queen, which held, then began his trump reduction by cashing the club king and ruffing a club. A diamond to the ace and a heart ruff in hand completed his trump reduction to bring him down to the same spade length as East.

Now Palma exited in diamonds, and regardless of the return, he was able to make both his ace and queen of trumps for plus 590.

Just to set the record straight, after a one-diamond overcall over your partner's one-club opening, a bid of one of a major by you shows four or more cards, not five cards. It is important to differentiate this case from the opponents' overcalling one heart, when a one-spade call by you would show five and a double would show four spades.


♠ 9 2
 A 9 6 4
 A Q 5
♣ K 7 6 4
South West North East
1♣ 1

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 ClimieMay 2nd, 2013 at 9:40 am

Hi Bobby,

A couple of stray thoughts. Presumably 1C 1D X is always 2 4 cd majors, or could one or both be longer? On the play problem, fortune may favour the bold but South’s bid seems very rash – swap North’s minor suit high cards and the result is horrible. If south had a partial club fit (e.g. J9x) or better I could understand the punt but the hands don’t seem to be fitting?

Mind you, what do I know? Last night I managed to defend one hand as if there were 14 diamonds in the pack and mis-played another hand as if dummy had a 4413 shape – and partner hadn’t bunched up the 9543 of clubs to look like only 3 cards. One of THOSE nights where every marginal decision early on went wrong, and genuine goofs followed later.



bobbywolffMay 2nd, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Hi Iain,

Bridge theory, always tempered by judgment first, before both personal experience and inviolate bidding rules.

While South’s 4 spade gamble is certainly pushing it, the good spade spots, at least lent some chance of scoring it up and good declarer play, plus a fortunate lie of the cards (in spite of the 4-1 trump division) brought it home.

The NS assets seemed more fitting for the mundane 2 spade contract in the other room, but good play plus bold bidding brought a doubled NV game home.

Note that France, the loser on this hand, at least, according to our report, did win the match calling attention to Damon Runyon’s, American sports writer who was into gambling from some years ago, famous quote, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet”.

While responding a major suit after 1 club by partner, 1 diamond by RHO, does not promise 5, neither does a negative double promise 4 of both majors. For example with: s. A10x, K10xx, KJx, Jxx I would double first and over a 1 spade response invite game with a 2NT rebid, but denying 4 spades.

Also I would always tend to bid a 5 card major holding either 4-5 or 5-4 in both majors, which does not deny holding at least 4 in both majors, making partner responsible for rebidding a different 4 card major if he has one. Of course, when holding 4-4 in both majors it fits very well within the negative double choice, but it is not required in order to still use the negative double.

Your self-pronounced goofs of last night does not appear to me to be a serious sign of anything, other than an occasional lapse of concentration. No doubt, winning bridge requires total attention, without which losing usually occurs. However, a made up mind of responding to the task at hand is the best remedy, but sometimes, especially as we age. gremlins invade the brain, and we need to acquire fierce discipline to dispatch those ugly demons.

Next time you play, good luck, in the form of intense concentration will, no doubt put you in the winner’s circle, and at least, that is how I will bet.

Iain ClimieMay 2nd, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Thanks for the info and kind thoughts. A combination of a bad night’s sleep, early morning swim, long day at work and a stuffy room seemed to do the damage. Strangely, the worst results arose after the most thought, whereas lazily switching to auto-pilot seemed to lessen the damage. I’m not sure what that proves!

There was a famous chess game in the 1950s where Petrosian was crushing a fellow soviet player (Bronstein). With practically no hope, the latter moved his only active piece (a knight), futilely kicking his opponent’s queen. Petrosian thought for a little while and, obsessed by increasing the pressure to an unbearable maximum, overlooked the threat completely. Enough thought works well, auto-pilot can work well (although it can also fail) but partly thinking things through is all too likely to end badly. Perhaps I’ve addressed my own point here.

bobbywolffMay 2nd, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Hi Iain,

Your analysis, insight, personal experience and analogy testifies to the greatness of both bridge and chess.

Any worthwhile game, challenging occupation or even daunting endeavor (such as winning fair lady) seems to cry out to whomever is attempting to succeed, “Don’t come into this battle or project with only weak stuff, but rather with all you have, otherwise expect the worst”.

Throughout a competitive life we all either succeed, or at times fail, when we are not prepared, for whatever reason, to give our best. The sad thing is that the ability to give one’s best effort usually comes naturally, whether as in your case you concentrate or rather go into auto-pilot.

There probably are many unknown psychological factors which are vital in putting one’s best foot forward. Therefore it becomes essential for each of us to understand thyself, overcome the poisoned flowers, aka bad luck, and do what is necessary, most of the time, involving exerting muscles or mindsets not often used, in order to not let yourself and everyone near and dear to you down, with the eventual goal to become the winner that all of us need to be.

Patrick CheuMay 2nd, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Hi Bobby,with your A10x K10xx KJx Jxx, is it better to just bid one heart and reserve Double to always show 44majors.Though with 45 or 54 bid 5card major and if enough pts for second bid then other major,if responder’s reverse is forcing to 2NT only..think double conveys info 44 majors quicker to opener in the event of a competitive raise to 2d or 3d from LHO?Regards-Patrick.

Patrick CheuMay 2nd, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Hi Bobby, South’s bid of four spades turns out to be the winning action but would you contemplate just bidding two spades if that is weak and non-forcing in your system or maybe 1S then 2S to show 9-10 mildly invite?Regards-Patrick.

bobbywolffMay 2nd, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Hi Patrick,

As usual, you are showing a very logical bridge mind, and doing so while attempting to show rigid discipline with expert-level bidding.

Regarding and thus preparing for preemptive raises by your aggressive opponents, when instead of making a negative double you choose to bid one heart with a 3-4-3-3 pretty good hand you are also subjecting yourself to the same preemptive raise which then might entice partner, and often, to raise your suit with 3 hoping for you to have 5.

Perhaps I am old-fashioned enough to have firmly placed in my mind that negative doubles tend to be balanced hands and not to always have 4-4 in unbid majors, a less likely distribution than sometimes only 1 four card major but nevertheless balanced.

In truth there is not much difference, especially in realistic actual sequences, since either way to go about it is, at least in my mind, works out OK, but sometimes the knowledge of negative doubles equating to balanced hands and not necessarily to always both majors allows the opener greater latitude in making decisions of when to double the opponents, or even compete higher in the opener’s long suit, expecting the balanced hand I have become used to. Also, from my experience, if a responder would double with QJ9x, K10xx, xx, xxx, then if we become defenders I would be uncomfortable, especially against good declarer’s of their knowing my almost exact distribution. No doubt, my way of perhaps being 3-4 or 4-3 will on occasion result in playing a 4-3 trump suit, but coming from a long time of playing 4 card major openings, do not, in any way, fear playing a 7 card trump fit. I have a greater fear of being an easy opponent than I do of playing a difficult contract.

True, holding a 1-4-4-4 hand or even 1-4-3-5 I would bid one heart (as you would) but then I could support clubs later with no problem should the bidding dictate it.

BTW, I think a responder’s reverse should always be GF, which would mean that it is possible that the responder does not (and often) have 4 cards in the suit he bids, particularly so when it is 4th suit.

Emphasizing our minor difference here is that IMO either way of handling this situation is OK, but I prefer to try and restrict my negative doubles to balanced hands and eschew requiring both major suits, allowing partner to judge better defensively in case the opponents make a higher preempt.

In answer to your 2nd comment there is no doubt that, as you suggest preemptive jump responses in competition work well and are fairly frequent with bidding only at the lowest level and then rebidding that suit showing both a slightly better hand, but possibly not as long a suit.

Yes, 4 spades is much too wild, unnecessary and is not my choice, but perhaps we should let the winner explain, not me, the declarer on this hand who scored it up. I prefer 1 spade, then 2 rather than a preemptive jump shift, since, as you suggest, the solidity of the suit makes for a better game hand than KJ9xxxx and out.

Patrick CheuMay 2nd, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Hi Bobby,thanks again for your lucid thoughts which helps me greatly in looking at the game from all angles,rather than just one dimentional way of playing. Sincere thanks-Patrick.