Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

How can a rational being be ennobled by anything that is not obtained by its own exertions?

Mary Wollstonecraft

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


In today's deal from the 1998 Cavendish Pairs tournament, Bob Hamman stretched to open the unappealing East hand one diamond. The combination of positive actions from East and West meant that when Nick Nickell tried three clubs at his third turn, Hamman did not care if this was intended as forcing, but passed gratefully.

Nickell took the opening heart lead in dummy and played a spade at trick two. East hopped up with the king and shifted a trump. Nickell could now win the club king and cross to the diamond ace to play the club ace. then the club jack, and drive out the club queen. Upon regaining the lead, he would play spades from the top. West could obtain the lead three times with his black winners and force declarer twice, once in either red suit,, but Nickell drew the last trump and then led top spades at every opportunity. At trick 13, West was left on lead with the spade six in his hand, and Nickell scored up his contract with the spade nine.

Unlikely as it may seem, East can beat three clubs by returning a spade at trick three. West wins the spade jack and leads a low spade to promote the club nine.

In these sorts of positions, one tends to do whatever declarer does not want you to do. Here the fact that declarer is playing the side-suit seems to mean that you should not do the same thing, but should play trumps, does it not?

Here a double by you is takeout, suggesting values and either the other two suits, or at least one of those suits plus secondary support for partner. Your plan might be to raise diamonds if partner bids them, and pass two spades, since your singleton king almost certainly won't be pulling its full weight.


♠ 7 2
 A K 10 8
 J 9 8 6 5 3
♣ K
South West North East
1♣ 1♠ 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


Patrick CheuJanuary 1st, 2014 at 11:37 am

Hi Bobby,does the singleton King of trumps in dummy has any bearing on East’s play?If it were a small trump in dummy and East has 8C over it,might he not have returned a second spade with Kx doubleton rather than a trump?Does not work if Declarer’s trumps are AQJ10xx or QJ109xx,now ruffing a spade in dummy if declarer has the ace of spades and play a third one.East knows that West is likely to hold four clubs,the question is how good are they..regards~Patrick.

jim2January 1st, 2014 at 2:09 pm

On BWTA, what if North responds two hearts?

bobby wolffJanuary 1st, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Hi Patrick,

Yes, it would make a big difference if the singleton club in the North hand was a small club (lower than the nine), but of course, the North hand was very weak for an opening bid as it is, much less and way below standards for an opening bid without it.

You are right on, when you suggest a different defense when different cards are present. On this hand East felt that he did not want declarer to score up the singleton king separately, which probably indicated that his clubs were at least semi-solid (AJ10) which they were.

Generally, defense in bridge, particularly against worthy opponents, is by far the most difficult aspect of the game. It needs to be logically interpreted (by his play) what is the most likely type of hand (on this one, as you suggested, the solidity of his club suit) that he held, and so East defended based on that evidence. It turns out that his 9 of clubs could have been used more intelligently, by because of the many possible combinations available it is very difficult to know exactly.

And speaking generally, since numeracy is the single most important quality necessary in order to rate very high, not everyone is blessed with superior numeric mental agility. This hand illustrates that fact.

Thanks for your question, which will enable our best and brightest to feel and therefore see, what the defensive task at hand often is.

Patrick CheuJanuary 1st, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Hi Jim and Bobby,re Jim North’s 2H response, three clubs by South must be some sort of heart agreement n game try otherwise South could have bid 2NT or invite with 3H.Think this hand is worth 3H only due to KC wastage,expect pard’s overcall in the range of 8-15..if KC is the KS then 4H is a good chance,then 3C..regards~Patrick.

bobby wolffJanuary 1st, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Hi Jim2,

Perhaps surprisingly, if partner would respond 2 hearts, I would pass quickly.

The reason being is that if partner had a likely distribution, 5-3-2-3 he should bid 2 hearts and if so, against competent defense we may be hard pressed to score up 8 tricks much less 9.

As I am sure you know, as others learn the more sophisticated aspects of advanced bridge bidding, such as this one involving responsive doubles, the more one has to adjust to the difference in responses when partner has been asked to choose between 2 suits (unless he had at least a decent 6 card spade suit) and he obliges, do not then expect anything but, at best, an average choice which will often be 3-2 in the suits you ask him to bid (remember your normal holding would be 5-5 in the reds) but the exceptions, including this hand are ever present.

The conclusion is that if partner had s. Axxxx, h. QJxx, d. KQ, c. xx he should jump to 4 hearts, and with s. AQxxx, h.10xxx, d. Ax, c. xx should bid 3 hearts and then, of course, his partner, although lacking a critical 5th heart would have to flip a coin as to whether or not he then raises to game.

If only other numeracy oriented (and therefore card players) could gain the experience necessary to understand what is being discussed here, which, in turn, would create a wonderful worldwide bridge world out there. (to the tune of Reuben, Reuben or Rachel, Rachel).

Again thanks for your question and your constant latching onto provocative questions and other educational bridge situations, most of them high-level.

jim2January 1st, 2014 at 10:48 pm

I thought that the original answer was not complete, dismissing as it did that North might be 5-4 in the majors due to the overcall instead of double. Partner could also be 6-4, especially since we know that North lacks either top honor in that suit. As you noted in your reply above, though, North could really be stuck for a bid with something like:


So, I was indeed fishing a bit. Yes, I too would pass two hearts expecting North to show more enthusiasm with four hearts.

bobby wolffJanuary 2nd, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Hi Jim2 & Patrick,

Summing up my main point is simply that if the spade overcaller had 4 hearts whether 5-4 or a relatively weak hand, but 6-4, he should, at the very least jump in hearts, to show the enormous fit which is alive and therefore well.

The law of total tricks, revived by Bergen & Cohen, applies in spades (and facetiously in all suits) especially when involved in competitive bidding with only about half the deck (or sometimes a little less) in high cards, between the partners.

That feature needs to be emphasized in the bidding with jumps for two reasons, #1 our beautiful fit will normally allow beaucoup tricks and #2 the opponents will then almost surely have a fit of their own with also many tricks for them in their best trump suit.

The above fact sometimes comes barreling out to all four players at the table, particularly when the experience is there to those who have seen it in operation. Therefore no particular formula or bidding rule needs to be in force, only what Al Davis, the Oakland Raider owner, might have said, “That’s bridge, mister!”.