Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Christina Rossetti

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

*Drury (a sound spade-raise)


When today's deal came up at the summer nationals last year, Ziggy Marcinski of Canada not only solved this problem, but also submitted it to the bulletin, thereby earning himself special thanks from those who like a good puzzle.

Put yourself in his position: You declare four spades after East has suggested a two-suited hand with diamonds and a major. Against your game, West leads the diamond 10. Plan the play.

The key to the deal is not whether to finesse or play for the drop in trumps — it is surely right to finesse. Given that the spade finesse rates to work, can you guard against a 3-0 break in trumps when you might lose a club, two diamonds and a trump?

The answer is yes, but you must be careful to strip the hand. You should win dummy’s diamond ace and lead a heart to your jack at trick two! Your idea is to try to keep East off lead for the duration of the deal, thus preventing him from being able to cash his diamond winners.

West takes the heart and plays a club. You win and run the spade queen, ducked by West. East shows out, so you cash the heart ace to pitch a club, then ruff out the clubs, cash the spade ace, and throw West in with the spade king to give you a ruff-sluff for the contract.

Despite your awkward holding of three small cards in declarer's second suit, you have just enough to jump to three diamonds to suggest invitational values and diamond support. Aces tend to be somewhat undervalued in a complex hand of this sort. (With the king-jack of spades instead of the ace, you might content yourself with a call of two diamonds.)


♠ A 9 7 6 4
 A 8 6 4
♣ 9 3 2
South West North East
1 Pass
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


David WarheitAugust 8th, 2013 at 9:16 am

Par on this hand is for EW to play 5HX, down only 2. Admittedly this is somewhat fortunate (clubs are 3-3). Do you think they should have bid this? (Heck, on a really good day (for EW) NS would bid 5S). At the very least, I don’t understand why W didn’t bid 4H over S’s bid of 3C.

Iain ClimieAugust 8th, 2013 at 10:52 am

Hi David, Bobby,

Was East’s 2N showing hearts and diamonds or could it be both minors or any 2-suiter exc spades as 2C is artificial? 2S could be used as a form of Michaels here but there is scope for confusion about 2N. West could dbl 3C I suppose.



Bobby WolffAugust 8th, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Hi David,

Yes, I probably (but not 100%) agree with you about West bidding 4 hearts over East’s passed hand TO of 2NT.

However, since this is a report of a real hand which came up at a National event, the West hand, while having good offense, opposite his partner’s distributional hand, including hearts, also had a better than average hand defensively, a probable spade trick and a good lead, plus defensive values in the opponent’s likely side suit.

The above, coupled with the 99%+ certainty of the NS’s hand continuation to 4 spades would then suggest that when they do, would West want his partner to bid 5 hearts, possibly taking a phantom save, over what could be a down 4 spades.

Of such decisions the game of high-level bridge determines its winners when contested by very good players. Sure enough, since East is void in spades, he would likely take the bait to 5 hearts, which, because of the good play of Ziggy would have produced a profitable sacrifice (not sure whether this was an IMP or matchpoint game), but who, among us, could predict all of that?

Also, at the table, there may have been some confusion as to what suits East was showing with his 2NT intervention, making West’s choice more problematical.

You are certainly correct when you suggest that NS may make a mistake and bid on to 5 spades when pressured, but we will never know that answer, only that 5 hearts doubled down 2 would only gain matchpoints or IMPs to those like Marcinski who played 4 spades to best advantage.

As you accurately state, 5 hearts doubled down 2, -500 is the par result on this hand, but only when the players play at a very high level. No doubt, this concerns itself with the luck element and to repeat my opening remark, as long as my partnership guaranteed hearts as one of the suits shown by my partner’s bid, I would have ventured 4 hearts with West’s hand at his 2nd turn.

What then would have happened later is anyone’s guess, except for one thing, no one would have been interested in writing this hand up, while playing either 5 hearts doubled by EW or 5 spades, down at least 1 by NS since Ziggy, for sure, would likely have not reported it.

Bobby WolffAugust 8th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Hi Iain,

No doubt, different partnerships play different type conventions, so I’ll just assume that, on this hand and after passing an unusual NT bid (becoming unusual, of course, after East’s 1st pass) would certainly show a 2 suiter and possibly (with a firm understanding) that East would have 1st doubled the Drury 2 club bid, if clubs would have been one of his 2 suits, therefore restricting his hand to the red suits.

Granted, that this type of reasoning is often misunderstood by the partners during the bidding, but nevertheless it is all we have to go on, and if so, West could have bid hearts, but for whatever reason did not.

In these days of improved bridge bidding, every aspiring new partnership must at least discuss what unusual sounding bids should show, and to not do so, is both negligent and foolhardy, not to mention costly in both reputation and result.

Yes, West could double 3 clubs, but by doing so, I do not think that effort will get his 5 card heart suit into play, and possibly because of the confusion caused, is the main reason hearts never were bid in this auction.

Oh well, we cannot police the whole bridge world and get them to bone up on their respective partnerships.

Our report was that East’s 2NT showed a major and a minor and if so, West could have bid hearts, but did not.

Iain ClimieAugust 8th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Thanks for this, Bobby, and point taken about the need for partnership work, especially given a range of mix-ups last night. Top billing goes to a hand where I opened 1D, pard bid 1N (6 to 9), I bid 2N on Ax Axxx AQ10xx K10 (2H may be better) and partner bid 3C. I placed him with (say) Qx Jxx xx QJ9xxx or similar, so toyed with 3N but passed – and was very, very wrong. I know 2 over 1 shouldn’t be shaded too. Much but K9x xx None AJ8xxxxx was a bit overly bent I felt! 3C making 7 failed to trouble the scorers unduly. Any ideas on a sane sequence here, especially as 2N from me wasn’t ideal either – 2452 with empty majors is perhaps more suited for suit than NT.

Pard apologised, trying to take all the blame, but I shrugged it off, cheered him up (happens, just 1 bad board) and we had an enjoyable and reasonably placed session.


jim2August 8th, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Iain –

I am not an expert. I might have bid 3N instead of 2N but, once I bid 2N and heard 3C, I might well have passed on the exact reasoning that you gave.

Bidding 3C as your partner did would never have entered my mind. Your partner heard you essentially deny a void or singleton club giving you a 10+ card fit! 5C, maybe, or 3N. You had invited game if partner was on the higher side of 6 – 9 HCP, so a game acceptance should be made just based on 8 good HCP.

What would you have bid if you had heard 5C?

What would 4C have meant in your partnership!? (Would 4N have been quantitative or ace asking?)

Iain ClimieAugust 8th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Hi Jim2,

Good questions all! Partner reckoned 4C was sensible when I’d probably have cue bid, although I’d rather he’d bid 2C initially. His 1N reply is non-forcing. 5C from him might have got 6 from me (or a very confused look) but this is the problem with regular club sessions with someone who is a decent player but whom I don’t see for system chats. I work away during the week, so we just turn up and play.

It does lead to a lot of mad results, of course, but I wonder if BW can sensibly reach at least 6C. A good hand for a bidding competition, too?



Iain ClimieAugust 8th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

PS 1N was bid somewhere else as well and EW later doubled 5C then tried to claim a foul after my LHO doubled 2H from my hand and the auction then took a very random turn. A fun hand..

Bobby WolffAugust 8th, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Hi Iain & Jim2,

Most of my bridge life, since I had achieved, at least in my own mind, the right to be heard, I have followed my own natural instincts rather than be strictly tied to what some players call a rigid system.

All the above is intended to say that any bid other than 2 clubs with holding 8 of the boys, headed by the AJ just doesn’t sit well with me. Sure, if partner is void in clubs we are headed for a minus score, but what if he doesn’t have a void in clubs. Over your 2 hearts and his 3 clubs, I suspect you will then give him 3 spades, which to me showed a semi-fit at the very least.

Over that I would take a preference for 6 clubs, leaving it up to partner to kick the extra point (please excuse the American football reference). Lo and behold, partner did not have that awful void in my suit and whatever we bid we would make.

Of course, partner would (should) never bid 3 spades with a low singleton or void in clubs, but rather while holding a poor fitting hand bid 3NT which I would probably then bid 4 clubs and leave it up to partner to raise me to 5 or not.

Please understand, bridge discipline is one of the most important factors to raise one’s game, but always, or even most of the time, to assume no fit is not winning bridge. I, too, have many scars to show for my optimism, but overall it works more often than it doesn’t.

Strong letter to follow!

Iain ClimieAugust 8th, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Thanks for this Bobby, although where would the story be if we’d had a sensible result.