Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Danger, Will Robinson, danger!

Irwin Allen

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


In response to your overcall, West leads the heart jack against four spades. Plan the defense.

In situations of this sort it is sometimes difficult to approach the problem because your instincts point you in the wrong direction. So let me prompt you with some questions. Let’s agree that our target is to take four tricks and that we do not mind conceding overtricks in exchange for a chance to defeat the game. How many quick tricks does our side have? The answer is that we have two hearts and we have to assume that we have a club trick coming, or we can surely never defeat this game.

Our best chance of a fourth winner is our diamond king. Can we just sit back and wait to score our two tricks in the minors? No indeed!

As soon as declarer knocks out our club king, then — no matter what his original club holding — he is surely going to have as many winners as he needs to discard slow diamond losers from his hand. Additionally, even if that were not so, declarer is probably threatening to pitch dummy’s slow diamond loser on the heart queen.

If this is the case, you have no hope of defeating the game unless partner has the diamond queen. If so, you need to switch to a diamond now, before either the clubs or hearts are established for a diamond discard. Therefore play a diamond at once, and hope for the best.

Let me put it on record that a new suit in response to an overcall of a weak bid must be played as forcing, or you deprive yourself of the chance to have an intelligent conversation. Here the choice is to blast to three no-trump, to cue-bid with three diamonds and follow with three no-trump, or to bid three hearts now. I'd bid three hearts, though the cue-bid is a reasonable alternative.


♠ 7 6
 A K 9 8 5
 K 5 3
♣ K 8 2
South West North East
2 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


jim2August 13th, 2013 at 12:20 pm

In BWTA, there are a lot of nuances and twists that may impact the “intelligent conversation” after 3H.

For example, if NS are vul and EW are not, then I don’t think East has as many as three diamonds and possibly not even two. A weak two is generally stronger than a 3-level preempt, so East’s silence also suggests the opponents have some defense. On the North side, the choice of an overcall rather than a double suggests a maximum of three hearts. Similarly, if North has four clubs but overcalled in spades anyway, that implies either a hand too weak to double then bid spades over the (expected) heart response by South, or a very 1-suited hand.

Suppose West has the rest of the diamond suit and a stray minor honor (for 8-9 HCP), that leaves about 18 HCP for North-East probably split something like 13-5 (but could be 12-6 or 14-4, etc, depending on things like spade suit quality and length).

With that groundwork in mind, how should the “conversation” proceed?

If North raises to 4H or bids a quite-unexpected 3N, then South obviously passes quite happily, and peace and prosperity should prevail.

I suppose a 4C response by North would be some sort of 2-suiter but, for the life of me, I could not construct a candidate hand for that bid other than something like 6-0-A-6 with suits headed by Qs.

4D is also possible from North, I suppose. Possibly 5-QJ-Axx-3?

More problematic might be the expected 3S bid by North. It could well be a minimum with a 6-card non-solid suit. I think South must bid 3N now. Yet North is likely something like 6-2-2-3 and, unless that heart doubleton include the Q, 3N looks poor and 4S little better. We already “know” that any missing KS (or QS) is likely offside and (in my ToCM (TM) world), East is always dealt a doubleton diamond headed by a spot card higher than any held by NS)

So, what does South “say” after North bids:

– 3S — 3N and hope for the best?
– 3N — Pass (in surprise)?
– 4C — ???
– 4D — ???
– 4H — Pass (hiding a broad smile)?
– 4S — Pass (stolidly)
– 4N — make an ace-showing response assuming hearts trump?

bruce karlsonAugust 13th, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Re: the diamond return. This hand is another example of how MP scoring can take the “game” out of the game. Giving N the trump Q, which seems reasonable, partner just has room for the DQ as S presumably has 6 HCP including the HQ.

Methinks it comes to style or, in my case, getting my money’s worth from the session. Wooden acceptance of an average board is simply no fun.

Before putting a D on the table however, I would be forced to think about partner’s reaction to a bad board if he lacks the required Q. I might be accused of “top or bottom” bridge or worse.

The takeaway: one is advised to pick regular partners with almost as much emphasis on temperament as competence. Winning is the goal but if it is not fun, ….

Iain ClimieAugust 13th, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Hi Bruce,

You are still ok if declarer has the DQ as the losing diamonds vanish on clubs after trumps are drawn, or dummy’s DJ can be thrown on the HQ after declarer leads towards it. The diamond would only misfire if declarer held (improbably) KJ10xx Q Qx Jxxxx when the winning defence is to play a club for pard to ruff.

Such a hand is almost incredible given partner’s pass and the non-appearance of the HQ at T1. I suppose declarer could drop the HQ on the actual hand, trying to avoid a D switch but East would need to be very imaginative to play for the exact hand above, and still would be wrong almost all the time. I take your point on partners though; if they can’t see the funny side of bad luck, they should be banished to the chess board or have “best behaviour” guidelines read out to them! Tantrums don’t improve results on later boards either.



Bobby WolffAugust 13th, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Hi Jim2,

Thanks for the large amount of time you have devoted to such a complete analysis of, what to do, after responding a forcing 3 hearts to partner’s 2 spade overcall.

Before answer your specific questions about responding to each particular bid, let me speculate that a “basher” with the South hand, might just bid 3NT, relieving partner of having much of a say in the final contract, unless his spade suit was a good solid 6+ carder, lacking the ace (because with it his hand would look good for NT) and uneven distribution, probably including a singleton (most likely diamonds) and would then merely return to 4 spades, a contract he would likely make.

To bid 3 hearts would usually accomplish the same result since partner, whether he would rebid 3 spades or 4 hearts (with likely 3 of them, but possibly a less than suitable Qx) but, if so, would then likely have a broken spade holding, possibly KJ9xxx making your game contract, at the least, very iffy.

Yes, if partner rebids 3 spades I would stop off at 3NT, allowing partner to choose between 4 spades, 4 hearts or pass. If partner instead chooses 4 clubs I would prefer 4 spades, although it could be wrong if partner now passes, but has a 5-5 black hand and catches the suspected 4-2 spade break (or worse) and has the ace of diamonds. Always remember, especially at rubber bridge or IMPs that going set is part of the game and not to fret over, except fretting and sorrow should be reserved for when another game contract would make (and also is clearly best) but not arrived at.

Now to your answers:

3S, yes should beget 3NT as a choice of games, allowing partner to pass, bid 4 hearts (then us 4S) or 4 spades (content)

3NT, also content, but breathlessly awaiting the sight of dummy in order to choose the play and assess chances

4 clubs-take a false preference to 4 spades, but do not cue bid 4 diamonds since partner will interpret that as a forward going move (and not just a choice of 4S or 5C, and, for that, there is not nearly enough beef, especially with the opening lead coming through not up to my king.

4D-Just bid 4 hearts as a lesser of evils since neither AKxxx nor xx is anything to write home about, much less get excited. Partner may then bid 4 spades over 4 hearts wherein I think that our hand is now worth another bid and that would be 5 spades. although with an aggressive (though very good) partner I would pass. For the record, if I would then bid 4 diamonds then bid 4 spades, you could raise me, although I am aggressive myself, I tone it down for slam bidding since there is so little room for error in that zone.

4H-yes, our bidding problem is now over, but there is a little item about trying to make it, and do not be terribly surprised with a poor heart holding (xx) possibly from partner e.g. AKJ9x, xx, Jx, AQ10x (the disadvantage of not bashing 3NT originally).

4S-Yes, solved and almost guaranteed except when being cursed in your TM world.

4NT-Great, since my prime cards, AK, plus even more, my minor suit kings, make whatever happens, at least at this point nothing but blue skies and green lights.

Thanks, as usual, again for your first thinking out loud and then striking up the band with your keen analytical bridge mind, which to the bright beginner or one with even more experience, should prove, at the very least, a useful exercise.

Bobby WolffAugust 13th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Hi Bruce,

Your fears come through loud and clear, but on this hand, a failed attempt at finding partner with the queen of diamonds is very unlikely to cost anything since declarer’s losing diamond finesse (holding the queen himself) will never occur once partner has not gotten off to the inspired lead of a diamond rather than lead the suit you bid (almost impossible except with mirrors) since the dummy’s clubs will almost surely provide a home for any loser declarer may have had in diamonds.

So rest easily, even with diamond failure, since unless partner is unable to understand that your diamond return was clearly the right play, and if unsuccessful not really helpful to the declarer, then he needs a lot more education than you do in order to move up a notch or two on the bridge ladder.

Yes experience and counting is ever present in the playing and defense in bridge and that concept easily ranks #1 in importance before significant improvement follows.

Bobby WolffAugust 13th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Hi Iain,

When I started to answer, your letter had not arrived, allowing Bruce to hear from both of us, with yours being a more comprehensive response.

Thanks, for taking the time to serve bridge. Between all of us I am very proud of the cooperation and above all good cheer which our site represents toward the progress of bridge in general and specific players in particular.

Not always the case with other sites with their sometimes cruel and uncalled for argumentative comments, resulting from different opinions, to be fair, not often about bridge hands, but rather about bridge politics on a global basis.

My, my what a difficult morass they create, especially when the clash of cultures occur and everyone thinks he or she is right.

Iain ClimieAugust 13th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Hi Bobby, Bruce, Jim2 and many others,

I’ve greatly enjoyed reading this friendly, instructive and funny blog and posting to it. I won’t ask where the dust ups occur but may have a furtive look around if I ever want something X-rated – but, there again, what for? One good reason for playing bridge is an escape from the gruesome events to be found elsewhere.

Bill CubleyAugust 13th, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Bobby, I got the defense right before I read the column. Maybe I am getting better. Could I find this defense at the table is the question. I think I would on a good day.

Bobby WolffAugust 13th, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Hi Bill,

No doubt you would have led a diamond back, maybe even the king and on just an average day, nothing special, for you.