Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Love thy country, wish it well,
Not with too intense a care;
‘Tis enough that when it fell
Thou its ruin did not share.

Bubb Dodington

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


Both defenders were to blame for allowing South’s game to make. In response to his partner’s overcall, West led the club four. Declarer rose with dummy’s ace, cashed the top diamonds for a club discard – West following with the two and three – and when East’s queen dropped, continued with the diamond jack, looking for all the world like a player with another club to jettison.

East ruffed low; South overruffed, then followed up with the heart jack. East took the ace and returned the club king, but South ruffed, drew the rest of the trump, and conceded two spades. Game made.

East certainly did not shine. Even if West had started with a singleton club and the club king had stood up, with West being able to overruff declarer on a third club, that, along with the trump ace, would only have represented three tricks. East should have appreciated that to defeat the contract, West needed to hold the spade ace. That being so, the fourth defensive trick would have to come from either a spade ruff or the club king.

Therefore, East should have played a low spade to partner’s ace and hoped that he could tell what to do from West’s subsequent action. When West returns the spade deuce, the ruff should be delivered.

West wasn’t blameless, though. He should have given a clear suit-preference signal of the 10 on the second diamond, and underscored it with the nine on the third.

You have just enough to make one game-try (without those spade intermediates I would feel passing two spades was the wisest approach) and by far the most descriptive call is a bid of three diamonds. This strongly suggests your precise hand-pattern, after which you can abide by partner's decision as to level and strain.


♠ Q 10 9 8 5
 A K J
♣ A Q 8 2
South West North East
1♠ Pass 1 NT Pass
2♣ 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


jim2August 14th, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I played bridge almost every evening and on every rainy day during my stay in picturesque Jawbonia because there really wasn’t much else to do. So I ended up learning their local system: The Equivocal Club.

Today’s hand is one of the ones I remember best because the locals called a system triumph.

There I was, innocently sitting South when partner opened one club (16+ HCP, shape undefined). East overcalled a semi-natural 2C (3C would have been one-suited) and the system required me to bid 3H (weak jump in hearts). West inserted 3S (alerted as a weak transfer to the remaining unbid suit). North doubled showing spades, East bid four diamonds, and I was pretty much forced to bid 4S. They all play the EC, so the odd-looking bidding was repeated at almost every table:

1C – 2C – 3H – 3S
DB – 4D – 4S – All Pass

At many tables, the 10D was led. Declarer inevitably won the AD and led the 10H to East’s AH and the defense played trump to their chagrin when South won the third round and turned out to have a now-solid heart suit to run.

At some tables, West led the 4C. Declarer won the AC, cashed two diamonds to pitch a club, and advanced the 10H. East won and faced a dilemma similar to the other tables. Most played trump but some chose to tap declarer by playing the KC. Declarer took the tap, cashed one heart to pitch the remaining small club and started on trump.

I protested the “system triumph” label since starting with three rounds of spades always beats the hand (that, of course, is what happened to me!). I got no sympathy, however, because the locals pointed out that the same defense always beats four hearts.

bruce karlsonAugust 14th, 2013 at 1:26 pm

On the 4H game:

Realize that 4 spades appears to be a bore, but why did S not bid it with 3 cd support? I guess I would reluctantly bid 2S and hope it was not passed out. The advantage of “denying” 3 cd support, I suppose, is that East could be forgiven for putting S with a max of 2 spades putting the ruff out of reach in the heart game.

With proper signaling by West, the “impossible” ruff does come back to life, however, and even a sleepy East should find it.

Hopefully by that time, I am scoring up my boring 620.

As usual, I probably missed something. What, pray tell, is it??

Iain ClimieAugust 14th, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Hi Bruce,

Can you guarantee that North is playing 5cd majors or even that 4S is a better spot if North holds SK9xxx or similar? This could explain South’s bid – or North could have been having a horrible session as declarer when the urge to stop him messing up could have got too much. Haven’t we all been there?



Iain ClimieAugust 14th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Also, and in less silly mode, consider the effects of 3 rounds of trumps on 4S. Double dummy, North can drop the DQ and play a heart but East can take the first heart and exit with a club honour. South’s hand isn’t much use in spades then, but does play well in 4H even with a club lead through the AQ.


bruce karlsonAugust 14th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Agree that 3 rounds of trump skewer South in 4S. My partner would always have 5 of a major in first seat, and West would be hard pressed to lead anything but a club, particularly from that trump holding. Further, that same spade Ax lead sequence in 4 H sets it in the first 3 tricks!!

Regardless of all that, it seems incumbent on S to show his spade support. If partner is still hung over however, one must adjust accordingly…

jim2August 14th, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Of course it’s generally better to let the weak’s hand suit be trump, otherwise a lack of late entries makes the suit worthless.

(Just having fun. But there’s so little to do in the places I have enough funds to tourist in!)

Iain ClimieAugust 14th, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Hi Bruce,

While I take the point that SAx then ruff sets the hand here, east’s reaction if a club lead would have set the hand (e.g. If N has SK but weaker minors and south has AK10xxxx and a doubleton spade can be imagined). The point about hangovers is all too true, though.

Many yrs back I played a (supposedly) serious match after a very good party the night before. I held no major suit cards but DAKQ10xxx and CAK10xxx. RHO opened 1H and I bid 2H (old-fashioned big hand) but pard alerted. On enquiry he said “He should have spades and clubs” – he was right, I should have done! A bemused LHO passed with 7 spades to the AQJ, parner bid 3C so I bid 7C, dbled by LHO but what did he think I had in spades? I apologised after it rolled in and I’d accidentally conned opponents out of a 12 cd fit.

At one table 6S X was played the other way. The leader had SJ H10xxxxx Dxx CQJxx and thought the dbl was Lightner. – 1660 although the minor suit hand was a wuss here.

Bobby WolffAugust 14th, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Hi Jim2, Bruce and Iain,

Even in Jawbonia, bridge usually rewards players who choose to play their strongest trump suits, particularly so when with other suits as trump the declarer will have trouble at first setting up his side suit (in this case, hearts) and then finding an entry back to them, here virtually non-existent, to cash the many tricks that suit would furnish.

The above caveat, of course, is the pertinent reason where, while holding:
s. void
h. AKJx
d. AKxx
c. Axxxx
and hearing one’s partner open the bidding 3 spades, it will usually be right to raise him to 4, rather than venture 3NT and relegate partner’s spade tricks to obscurity.

Even in picturesque Elbonia (upper, lower, or middle) and in spite of the rainy days which suggest playing bridge
rather than picnicking, swimming, hiking or mountain climbing, bridge concepts remain the same, however the defense should be attuned to how to defend them as well as the offense has bid them, and East should realize upon winning his trump ace that the only defense which has a chance to succeed is to garner three spade tricks which requires partner to have Ax in spades and to have started with at least 2 trumps.

For the bridge purists out there who love matchpoints, part of the fantastic allure of bridge is to be able to concoct a winning defense to defeat a hand, rather than the sometimes almost impossibly difficult and random task of avoiding giving declarer an overtrick, which at times becomes a sheer guess, making the game less pure to play.

Just a thought, but certainly not an universal opinion and perhaps the high diamond spot legal signals come into play in order to turn this particular defense into skill rather than luck.

Thanks Jim2, for sharing with us your choices of vacation spots, intermingled with a love of bridge and a talent for

Perhaps Elbonia should join the WBF enabling even sometime visitors there to apply to represent that beautiful? country in the World Bridge Olympiad.

Bobby WolffAugust 14th, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Hi Bruce,

Years ago and back when I had a better sense of humor there used to be an unwritten, but practiced bridge caveat:

What should you call a player with a good 7 card suit, or even just a fair 8 card or longer suit? The answer is declarer! The reason for it is often mentioned so that your thinking needs to adjust to catering to that and realize that once a good suit (KQJxxxx qualifies for that) is held and particularly one which doesn’t have many, if any, outside entries, other even 8 card major suit fits, should take their place in line behind the above sometimes humorous, but actually very serious, practical bridge rule to follow.

To be sure, like many other bridge rules there are exceptions, centering around sensational trick taking hands opposite, but never forget the normal or fairly normal hands which occur more frequently.

Go get ’em!

Bobby WolffAugust 14th, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Hi Iain,

You indeed, have experienced so many book worthy bridge happenings that, at the very least, you should write a bridge book, detailing the experience which includes, top level bridge, highly unusual sensational hands, but rarely bid in the normal way, and above all, what one can call bridge playing luck, which is the hook which will nab the reader and send him to Iain in Wonderland.

Thanks for sharing even if some of those related experiences have a little touching up which, if so, welcome to the bridge writing business.

Iain ClimieAugust 14th, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for this but I think I proved why beer and bridge shouldn’t be mixed too much. I think I’ve described the fluke hand here before! Clearly the little grey cells are having a bad time – or are only working after some delay.


Dave SmithAugust 14th, 2013 at 7:00 pm

In your methods would 4H be a splinter bid?

ClarksburgAugust 14th, 2013 at 7:30 pm

“…Perhaps Elbonia should join the WBF enabling even sometime visitors there to apply to represent that beautiful? country in the World Bridge Olympiad…..”
Yes, and there could be a high-profile televised match against Monaco!

Bobby WolffAugust 14th, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Hi Dave,

Funny you should ask, but I will hasten to answer. I, for many years, have always encouraged my partner (and please disregard the sword against his neck) to play 1S P 4H and 1H P 3 or 4 spades as natural and not splintery.

My preference is only because I value the advantage of that type of preemption to showing splinters, simply because trump fits can be shown other ways, first Jacoby 2NT which asks rather than tells and also when just changing suits at the two level, then later bidding two different suits 100% of the time suggests shortness in the 4th suit, or even just a later round cue bid after the primary suit has been established, would show a control which, of course, could be in the form of a singleton or void.

Summing up, I perhaps overvalue preemption and undervalue the immediate disclosure of a fit and where shortness exists, but I can only go toward what my experience has suggested to me.

When opponents almost always bid well against a pair, get off to the right openiing lead, and defend almost double dummy they are either cheating (extremely unlikely) or their opponents are making it too easy for them (usually the case) which goes along with being a tough opponent.

Thanks for writing.

Bobby WolffAugust 14th, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Many a true word has been said in jest. Years ago a well known wealthy sponsor lived in the Bahamas and encouraged professionals to establish residence there so they could play with him in the world championships.

It was a novel suggestion which didn’t produce any medals, but probably made life more affordable and therefore more tolerable for the pros.

Herreman RobertAugust 17th, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Who else has a partner who needs underscored signals ?
The 9 of Diamonds ?

Herreman RobertAugust 17th, 2013 at 6:42 pm

In this situation, we play 4H as a fit-jump.
Who else ?
I believe more frequent than a 4H to play…. and very useful, if further competion.
What do you think of that Mr Wolff ?