Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Traffic signals in New York are just rough guidelines.

David Letterman

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


Today's deal demonstrates an unusual use of the suit-preference signal. I am sure you are all broadly familiar with the concept of issuing suit-preference signals when giving partner a ruff: You play a low card to get him to switch to the lower outstanding suit, and a high card when you prefer the higher suit. But today's signal showed a different position.

North-South quickly bid to game after South had opened a somewhat idiosyncratic strong no-trump. With all his side’s defensive strength, West started with a top heart, and continued with a heart to East’s 10. East cashed the heart ace and had to decide which suit to play now. The natural switch was to a club, and now declarer had nine tricks when he ran his clubs and read the ending accurately.

What has this got to do with suit-preference signals? you might ask. The point is that West should have shifted to the higher of his two small hearts at trick two, for suit-preference reasons. If East had seen him play the heart nine, then the two, this would have warned East that his partner wanted a play other than a club switch and should have alerted him to the possibility of a layout in which South had a running club suit, similar to the one that existed. If that was the case, a diamond switch would be the only hope at trick four.

Your hand looks as if it is worth a second call, since you might well find that your side can make nine tricks in clubs while your opponents could make eight tricks in whichever red suit they settle in. While a double here would be takeout, you should only make that call with four spades, or with better spades and worse clubs than this. A simple call of three clubs looks right.


♠ K 10 6
 5 3
 K 4
♣ A K Q 9 6 3
South West North East
2♣ Dbl. Pass 2

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


Jane ANovember 28th, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Hi Bobby,

Happy Thanksgiving. If west leads back a low heart at trick two and south puts in the jack, east has to play the ace to take the trick. Same with west leading the nine. Either way, if south puts in the jack, how can east know which minor to lead back after taking his heart ten? Would leading back a low heart indicate a club lead and leading back the higher heart indicate a diamond? Gets kind of tricky if south puts up the jack at trick two. If east leads a low heart originally instead of the queen, and south ducks it, would you play the ten? Do you like the lead of the heart queen missing both the jack and the ten?

Eat, drink, be merry, and try not to drive in New York City!

bobby wolffNovember 28th, 2013 at 3:30 pm

Hi Jane A,

Because of just bridge circumstances, if West continues with the nine instead of the deuce it would not effect their chances of still being able to take 4 heart tricks as long as East knows enough to return the diamond West is asking for, in order to cash the setting trick, assuming declarer will guess the location of the spade queen. If declarer rather than East had the heart ten he would have the suit stopped, so in an important way West needs to play his partner for the cards in hearts he had.

From KQ10x or of course from KQJx the king is probably the percentage play rather than a low one (especially holding KQJx), but from KQ9x no one knows for sure, but the lead of the king (or queen if conventional) is probably the preferred choice.

The theme of the hand though, is for West to find a legal way to tip East off to return a diamond instead of a club. This, he should be able to do by leading the 9 rather than the deuce at trick 2, which suggests to partner to lead the higher one between the two likely suits (discounting spades because of the dummy’s holding). Therefore the deuce would signal for a club rather than a diamond.

Difficult? Yes! Innovative? Most definitely and one might add brilliant to that description.

If West would have led the 2 of hearts, I think it right to play the ten with East’s original holding since declarer is marked with only 2 hearts. It may make it awkward if South has the queen, but it is certainly right with this combination and besides if he did, I wouldn’t have a column to right.

Yes, driving in NYC sometimes uses traffic lights only as “rough guidelines”, but do you agree with me that in Las Vegas, yellow lights only signal to the driver, “Keep on going, you’ll probably make it through”!

Happy turkey (not so good for them), football, and giving thanks for living day to you and yours and from Judy!

Iain ClimieNovember 28th, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Hi Bobby, Jane,

Could East smell a rat here? West has led a heart from 4 cards round to a strong NT rather than a club from 5 or even 6, so which Minor suit Ace or King could run away? West surely needs one of them t beat this, although the SKQ might just be enough as well. East knows that South can’t run more than 4 diamonds regardless, and he could perhaps have SKQxx but then a club winner can’t escape. If South has long, strong clubs, though, and he may well have 5+, there is a real danger.

West should still have helped more, but East perhaps could have picked up on this point. Any thoughts?



Iain ClimieNovember 28th, 2013 at 4:05 pm

PS Of course if South has CA, DAKxx and SKQxx and gets diamonds right, this is cold anyway.

bobby wolffNovember 28th, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Hi Sherlock (aka Iain),

I have not yet scrutized your detective work, but whatever the result of my report, you are, most importantly doing it the precisely correct way. As you know, both defending and declarer’s play in bridge is a huge percent problem solving and looking for legal evidence (as distinguished from partner’s tempo which is unethical) rather than outright guessing and being on track here, as you most always are, makes an off the charts difference in your partnership results.

You are excellent in teaching a newbe bridge player how to fish, rather than just directing him to a seafood restaurant.

Now if only you and I can avoid the wrong assumptions and, of course, avoid careless mistakes, we might win more than we do.

Jane ANovember 28th, 2013 at 9:25 pm

I was not aware drivers paid any attention at all to traffic lights in Las Vegas. Seems like they drive through red ones just as often as yellow, but yellow certainly does not cause many to yield, or God forbid, slow down. We had the yellow light crashers in Kansas City also, so I suspect this may be universal. We should slow down and smell the roses. No one should be in that much of a hurry.

Enjoy the day. Thanks for continuing to help all of us with bridge.