Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Friday, May 17th, 2013

Don't, sir, accustom yourself to use big words for little matters.

Samuel Johnson

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


This week's deals all come from the Cavendish tournament and feature points of technical interest in the play.

This deal might look like a simple defensive problem against three no-trump — just the five tricks hinge on the play to trick two! For example, at one table Zia Mahmood reached three no-trump against the Sanborns, having bid spades twice. Steve Sanborn led the diamond king (showing three of the top four honors in the suit, and requesting an unblock or a count signal). Kerri Sanborn showed an odd number of diamonds, helping her partner know that declarer had the guarded diamond queen left.

Still, West did not know whether to shift to spades or hearts to put his partner on lead for the diamond through. After much thought he shifted to hearts and declarer claimed his 10 tricks.

By contrast, Larry Cohen was on lead after a slightly different auction in which South had opened one spade and had rebid two no-trump. Although he had the option of leading the diamond king for an unblock, he decided that South was bound to have the guarded diamond queen. Therefore he led the diamond ace (which asked for attitude and was not an unblock request).

Now David Berkowitz’s diamond eight was suit preference for a spade — a great hand for his methods. Cohen shifted to a spade, East went back to diamonds, and the defenders cashed out the spades for down four.

At matchpoint pairs, it would be reasonable to pass, hoping that your side could not make game and that spades would outscore diamonds (or no-trump). At teams, it feels right to bid two diamonds, keeping the auction open and hoping to find a way back to a higher-scoring strain, if appropriate.


♠ A Q 2
 Q 10 9 8 2
 8 7 6
♣ 8 2
South West North East
1 Pass
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


Bob KiblerMay 30th, 2013 at 10:38 am


You say that in the Cohen-Berkowitz methods the lead of the ace asks for attitude, but
Berkowitz instead showed suit preference — and Cohen read it properly! Of course this
is an issue for each partnership, but I’d be interested in your views in detail: there are
many competing carding methods. First, what do you do in casual partnerships; then,
what do you prefer in your established partnerships?

Iain ClimieMay 30th, 2013 at 10:53 am

Hi Bobby,

Can I echo Bob K’s question and ask for more detail on Cohen-Berkowitz’s methods. Would a low card from East have been encouraging, while higher cards (perhaps odd / even or high/middle) have suit preference overtones?

Also, on BWTA what about bidding 2S? 4 cd support is preferable but this would keep things moving at teams and scores more at pairs.



Bobby WolffMay 30th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Hi Bob & Iain,

Mea culpa in not going far enough in the explanation of the Berkowitz-Cohen signalling system, not official, but presumed.

Since leading an Ace against NT (of course, tempered greatly with altogether a different type of meaning if partner had bid the suit) is the most powerful lead a defender can muster versus NT, the lead, sometimes called attitude is basically suit preference, trying to direct partner how to get partner in, to continue the assault on the declarer in the opening led suit.

Obviously attitude is usually meant as liking the suit led or not, but when partner is very powerful in the suit, especially on the bidding given by the declarer, claiming a stopper in both unbid suits, the card played by partner should shift toward the attitude (confusion reigns when not explained) changes to what suit the 3rd seat player wants switched to.

For a long while and years ago Berkowitz-Cohen did away with strict normal attitude signals and played all 1st trick signals as suit preference, but I lost track if that continued throughout the length of their long successful partnership.

I apologize for not discussing this more clearly in this particular column which, of course, addressed a hand they defended. Perhaps this was one of the earlier hands which caused them to change their first trick signalling methods.

In answer to Bob’s question, I prefer, in the type hand above, when the Ace is led to show power, coupling with declarer claiming a stop in that suit, that suit preference is played, but if it goes 1NT P 3NT then 3rd seat plays attitude toward the opening lead, not suit preference, although as mentioned above, C-B switched to suit preference in all cases.

I do agree that they were probably right on frequency that anytime the Ace is led at NT, but Bob is also asking a very intelligent question when he separates casual and regular partnerships, making the matter urgent to be discussed.

To Iain, no it is really not possible to have signalling methods which allow high and low cards to have many meanings since if one means something the other needs to mean the opposite, without which confusion will reign, not to mention ethical issues in gauging the tempo of partner’s slower or sometimes rapid decision (very prevalent in odd even, leading it to be barred in North America).

I agree with at least considering, with the BWTA, bidding 2 spades with only 3 card support, but after all the AQx, precisely for the reasons you named. However it is perhaps a little more conservative to advocate passing 1 spade and give up the infrequent chance of game in spades opposite only a 1 spade rebid from partner. However, I do appreciate your imagination and certainly do not disagree with such an effort.

Patrick CheuMay 30th, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Hi Bobby, Ace and Q leads in NT in some methods,asks for reverse attitude,i.e low from partner encourages n high not so,and King asks for normal count,here the question begs an answer as to whether the 8D is a suit preference for spades as well as a dislike for diamonds,or just preference for spades?Have to admit pard n I play 8D here as dislike,with no reference to suit preference,cos with 1087 or 1076,what would East play as a dislike for diamonds,if reverse attitude?10 8 or 7.Declarer may be able to falsecard the defenders…Regards-Patrick.

Iain ClimieMay 30th, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Many thanks for this, and I’ve got a further variant on Bob’s question. One regular partner of mine is retired so is well rested on a Weds evening, especially as his wife plays too. I have a fairly stressful job then a 45 min drive to that club, regularly arriving in a slightly frazzled state.

We have various gadgets and agreements, which one or both of us (but especially me) occasionally forgets e.g. we’ve just agreed to play reverse attitude but normal count on partner’s lead. Should we have a simple systems card for the nights when my brain has turned to mush? I was occasionally tempted by this idea with another partner whose medication caused him to lose concentration around 10-00 pm – would a curfew on complexity actually be allowed? I suspect maybe at clubs but not at tournaments!

I’m sure you don’t have this frailty, but can you comment on help for us luckless lesser mortals, please? Are we allowed to idiot proof matters half way through a normal session?



Bobby WolffMay 30th, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Hi Patrick,

You offer a very learned and sophisticated compromise on what other roosters are doing in the barnyard. It likely is more important to have something discussed and in place, rather than the determination of what is the very best way to do it. Of course, the overall intent and assumption is giving credit to the declarer (and his partnership) that when 3NT is bid (in many auctions) that declarer has at least a potential stopper in the unbid suit(s), therefore enabling the defense (in some cases) to concentrate more on suit preference rather than attitude.

An incidental question might be: Are you a sheep in wolf(f)’s clothing or a wolf(f) in sheep’s clothing? Modesty becomes you, as you sure try and play down your obvious comprehensive bridge acumen.

Finally, the bridge gods surely realize that their game rarely lends itself to perfect solutions (nor anywhere near) and tortures us to conjure up makeshift choices and then goes out of their way to make sure some card combination arise, to test our patience.

Oh well, it is better than working for a living.

Kind regards!

Bobby WolffMay 30th, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Hi Iain,

As Rex Harrison once said (way more than once) to Liza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”, “By George, you’ve got it”.

Especially for you and at night, after a 45 minute drive, the simpler the better. However some of us are perfectionists (not I) and are not satisfied to remember and win, but prefer to aspire and lose.

You need to not be so accommodating and rather be catered to. I rationalize because of my age, while you should also because of your work schedule and harrowing very busy life. This 10PM curfew on sanity appeals to many of us who are looking for special and different ways to make excuses for gaffes.

Reminds me of my youth when I dated some cute chicks, but never succeeded with my goal for the evening and took her home before 10PM, only to find out that other guys were succeeding. She also probably was taking some medication which didn’t effect her until about 10PM, at least thinking that to be the truth, was better for my self esteem.

A further reaction to your club versus tournament comment, is that good bridge is strictly forbidden at some clubs after 10PM, and furthermore, not recommended before. In that way they can give beau coup masterpoints for 38% games without feeling guilty.

However, I, also, am embarrassed since when I ran a bridge club in my youth and in the junior duplicate we added 1/2 again to everyone’s score at the end, so that we could encourage last place finishers to return to play by telling them truthfully “sort of”, “Don’t despair, true you two were last, but you were still above average”.

Patrick CheuMay 30th, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Hi Bobby,as usual your comment is worthy of further scrutiny and more food for thought,think the lead of an ace against NT after declarer shows stop,there is a case ,as you put it,for defenders to show suit preference in outside suits,as shown by the hand in question,cf to say 1NT-3NT,which asks for attitude.Thanks again for your helpful thoughts in general.Best Regards-Patrick.

Iain ClimieMay 30th, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Hi Bobby, thanks for the wise and hilarious reply. In slightly more serious vein, though, if partner is having a bad night, there is surely a case for avoiding ambiguous bids, over-clever defences (especially at IMPs), excess subtlety, oover-harsh comments etc. All the best,


Bobby WolffMay 31st, 2013 at 1:14 am

Hi Iain,

Especially so, if being nice and keeping a worthwhile friendship as well as a tolerant and respectful attitude is more important than winning the tournament.

Some of us are saving our convincing arguments about the above to when
we are at the gate, awaiting the elevator which may take us either direction.

Meanwhile I’m taking lessons on how to get the most out of using pitchforks.