Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Monday, August 26th, 2013

The true way goes over a rope which is not stretched at any great height but just above the ground. It seems more designed to make people stumble than to be walked upon.

Franz Kafka

South North
Neither ♠ K 9
 A Q 5
 Q J 6
♣ 10 8 7 4 3
West East
♠ 6 5
 J 10 8 7
 K 9 5 3 2
♣ Q 9
♠ 8 7 3
 K 9 2
 10 8 7 4
♣ K J 6
♠ A Q J 10 4 2
 6 4 3
♣ A 5 2
South West North East
1♠ Pass 1 NT Pass
3♠ Pass 4♠ All pass


In today's deal South should make the jump rebid of three spades over his partner's response of one no-trump. He may have only a 15-count, but with 100 honors in spades and great controls, he should take the high road. With the same hand but the singleton diamond king instead of the ace, a simple rebid in spades would be equally clear.

Now it is up to you as declarer to make your game when West leads the heart jack against four spades. You try dummy’s queen but East wins the king and returns a heart. What should you do next?

You should thank your partner, for providing the spade nine to turn a contract hinging on a finesse into nearly a sure thing! You win the heart ace, play a diamond to your ace and then lead a spade to dummy’s nine. Now you play the diamond queen, discarding a heart. West will make his king, and try to cash a heart, but you can ruff his return and cross to dummy with the spade king to discard a club on the diamond jack. You end up scoring six spades, two diamonds and two aces for 10 tricks.

Just for the record, had dummy’s spade nine been the eight, your best play for the contract would have been to unblock the diamond ace, then lead a spade to the eight, hoping to find West with the spade nine. That finesse would give you the entry to dummy to set up diamonds.

It feels right to lead a major here, and while a spade is more likely to set up tricks for your side, it is also far more likely to cost your side a trick. So I would lead a heart, and to my mind the heart nine is the least deceptive card here. If you lead a low heart, partner is likely to play you for more length or strength in the suit than this.


♠ Q 10 8
 9 6 4
 K 8 3
♣ A Q 8 7
South West North East
1♣ Pass 1 NT
All 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 WarheitSeptember 9th, 2013 at 9:11 am

I think I’m missing something here. North has what some people would call an opening bid (not me), but he bids only 1NT? Also, side point, change N’s S9 to the 7 or smaller (even the 8), and 4S seems to rely on the H finesse, but 3NT is cold. Any way to get there?

Bobby WolffSeptember 9th, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Hi David,

You are, of course, right in what you say, but bridge is bridge and sometimes suggested methods basically fail.

Yes, most current players, probably including 90% of the world’s best players, would open the North hand with either one diamond or a weak NT. However, in the column hand South is the dealer and opens a standard 1 spade.

In the 2 over 1 system, North deems himself too weak to force to game, particularly opposite some of the skimpy stuff which is opened today and so contents himself with a forcing (but not to game) 1NT response.

South makes a classic 3 spade response, and although at matchpoints particularly, North may opt for 3NT, he would consider 4 spades a slam dunk, and so prefers that.

In effect it is a slam dunk, even with the best opening lead for the opponents and both finesses being offside. However a simple loser on loser play brings the 95+% game home.

Obviously this hand is included (and especially on Monday, when less difficult hands are chosen) to showcase what a loser on loser play looks like.

However, the realism of your comments do strike home, proving once again that the game itself is the master and never can be taken for granted.

It always makes me chuckle when someone, not you in this case, questions how a 27 HCP hand, replete with a solid major suit and prime values, could be in danger, which of course it would be, without the spade 9, but bridge is nothing else, if not unpredictable, and we must keep up our concentration to not fall victim even one time more than we should.

And sometimes the unkind rocks of unlikely defensive distribution makes us fail, in spite of us being as careful as we should.

David WarheitSeptember 9th, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Thanks for your comments and kind remarks. This hand is a striking illustration of why I do not play forcing 1NT response. Your statement is that the N hand is strong enough to open the bidding, but when partner opens the bidding, it is not strong enough to force to game. What I see over and over are responders that bid too much when partner opens a subpar hand like N’s or occasionally chicken out fearing such an opener when it turns out opener has a solid opener. Roth-Stone may have been too extreme the other way, but I believe they were on the right track.

Bobby WolffSeptember 10th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Hi David,

You make your point in cinema scope and are basically right, but there are other points to consider, ones which sometimes do not automatically appear on the radar of being important enough to recognize.

When one opens the bidding, he gains advantage in taking space away from the wary opponents, an advantage which is underrated among even lesser experienced very high-level combatants. When partner has a fit with your opening bid suit, and although not having a particularly good hand, can then add to the preemptive effect of raising the suit, causing havoc, in the way of lesser bidding space and therefore bridge language translated to those worthy adversaries who are opposing you.

The playing and winning in bridge is not just limited to excellent technique, a good bidding system and superior judgment, but rather to tactical advantages taking advantage of both conserving your sides bidding space and at the same time disrupting the opponents communication.

Without continuing to beat this unfortunate horse, suffice it to say that Roth-Stone, as you say, a logical wait and see system of hearing first what the opponents had to say and then coming in the bidding later armed with the information gleaned and then outbidding their opponents, but in effect that system faded out, simply because their calling card eventually failed miserably as their opponents learned how to cope with it.

Not unlike American football strategies which are good on paper, but after the opponents learn how to cope with them, fade into obscurity, never to be heard from again.

In no way am I disrespecting your opinion, but rather applaud you for stating it, however, like many subjects, have two sides to them. There are also many other nuances involved in this important discussion, but ones which would take some time to discuss, such as opening lead advantages as well as taking advantage of bridge rules pertaining to not enough given to the opponents for setting down contracts even when doubled, and for different strategies against favorable and unfavorable vulnerabilities.

I hear, like bridge, there are different ways to skin cats, but in doing so, all factors, great and small, need to be taken into consideration before determining what works best and what does not.

David WarheitSeptember 10th, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I seem to remember that Terence Reese came up with a system where all hands or at least all those ordinarily opened with a bid of one of a suit should be opened with “pass”. Therefore, all opening bids of 1 of a suit were essentially psychs. This system would seem to be almost perfectly in line with your argument, but other than Reese and his partner Boris Schapiro, I don’t believe anyone ever adopted this system and it died a quiet and soon death. Your argument that light bidding can mess up one’s opponents is, of course, true, but to me it seems to mess up your own bidding even more and leads to a deep sense of dissatisfaction which is often taken out on one’s partner (instead of adopting a system which will largely avoid such unhappiness).

Bobby WolffSeptember 11th, 2013 at 12:16 am

Hi David,

You probably are talking about a method which thrived about 25+ years ago, where the strongest original bid is pass and all opening bids were weak and was called what I thought was an appropriate name, e.g. “fertilizer”.

At least as far as I am concerned, I am not talking about those extremes, only moving the requirements for opening the bidding a small amount downward in the hopes of obtaining advantage. No really big deal, which only has to do with tactical advantages, but requires partner to somewhat soft pedal his responses.

Remember, way back in the very early 1930’s (by reading bridge history for most) when Ely Culbertson, the author of most of the important bridge books regarding system opened the bidding with 2 1/2 honor tricks, s. Axxx, h. Kxx, d. Axx, c. xxx and did so with his four card major.

Even today, I would not advocate opening that hand with anything but pass, but all that I am saying is that bridge has gone through a number of stages, but opening now what I consider light might be, s. xx, h. xx, d. AKJxx, c. K10xx with one diamond since I want a diamond lead if we become defenders and I think the 2-2-5-4 distribution adds some offensive qualities to the hand, especially since I can then conveniently rebid 2 clubs.

Again, no big deal, but I think worth mentioning for others to ponder and then decide for themselves.

And to engage in talking about satisfaction, I think that the end result of what works will end with whether or not a player and his partner pick out and learn an agreed system and then become happy with their results, rather than other emotional reasons.

Bridge is not an easy game to play, but the nuances involved are nothing short of fascinating and extremely challenging. No doubt for a partnership to succeed they both have to be comfortable with what they play and thus you need to get a partner and reach the compromises two intelligent people will eventually obtain.

Good luck!