Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Thursday, December 26th, 2013

The numbers may be said to rule the whole world of quantity, and the four rules of arithmetic may be regarded as the complete equipment of the mathematician.

James Maxwell

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


In today's deal, played in a pairs event, North took the reasonable approach of not disclosing his four-card trump support at his first turn, since he had such a balanced hand, but of subsequently competing to the three-level because he knew his side had a nine-card trump fit.

Since West could only have been stopped from taking nine tricks in a club contract via a trump promotion, the onus for his side was to extract as much as possible from defending a spade partscore. With the opponents vulnerable, plus 100 would represent an average score, plus 200 an excellent one.

The club king held the first trick, East echoing to suggest not only a doubleton club, but also a spade higher than dummy’s biggest trump, West shifted to the heart jack. (The heart nine would also have sufficed, but as you can see, a small heart would not have worked if declarer had guessed to duck in dummy.) The defense now took its three top heart tricks and reverted to clubs. West won the trick and played a third club, and since East was able to overruff dummy, the defense had six tricks and all the matchpoints.

The trap for the defense was to avoid taking the club ruff before playing on hearts. Had they done so, then dummy’s vulnerable heart suit would have been protected from attack. Declarer wins the trump or diamond return and takes nine tricks with East making just the heart ace at the end.

My general experience is that it is neither wise nor necessary to overcall a strong no-trump with this balanced hand-pattern, no matter what the strength of the hand might be. All too often, one gets to defend three no-trump if one stays silent, while bidding helps alert the opponents to the potential problem. Incidentally, if West transfers to hearts, you might well decide to bid at your next turn.


♠ A K Q 8 7
 8 7 5
 A 7
♣ J 10 6
South West North East
1 NT

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 WarheitJanuary 9th, 2014 at 9:27 am

There is no possible trump promotion if W plays a club contract. I feel sorry for NS since EW defended perfectly and because on a good day he can make 4S (HA with W & DJ drops in 3 leads).

Shantanu RastogiJanuary 9th, 2014 at 10:37 am

Dear Mr Wolff

Two points:

1. East’s echoing in Clubs and showing that he can overruff the dummy was by partnership agreement or else a play of 4 instead of 8 could mean singleton or three cards.
2. Isnt it better to bid pre-emptive 3 Spades (though you’ve rightly mentioned that cards were too balanced and strong for pre-empt) as then EW maynot find right defence and 3 Spade may make. Here the double by East shows values and something in hearts so defence can act accordingly.

best regards

Shantanu Rastogi

bobby wolffJanuary 9th, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Hi David & Shantanu,

On this particular AOB there were a few things left unsaid (mainly because of space). Also David, you are correct, of course, since there is no trump promotion for the defense available in clubs.

1. It would be dangerous for West to switch to the nine of hearts rather than the jack since East may not (probably would not) read the situation if declarer ducked.

2. North does not have a preemptive jump in spades (BTW, an immediate jump to 3 of partner’s major instead of two being preemptive is a convention since normal would be a limit raise (8-11 and usually 4 trumps).

3. North, then only valued his hand as a sound raise to 2 spades, but competed to the three level with competition.

4. From an experienced eye this defensive situation might require active ethics wherein a fast echo in clubs (high-low) would always indicate no more than a doubleton club and, of course, the ability to overruff dummy on the 3rd club, while a slow one might feature holding the ace of hearts, (and possibly the ace jack and certainly the AQ, not to mention the AQ10), but a doubleton club so that partner could be illegally influenced to switch to hearts at trick 2 instead of immediately giving the club ruff (especially if holding the queen or queen-jack of hearts).

5. My advice is to quickly (in tempo) play a low club on this hand (holding the AQ10 of hearts) and then lead his high one back eventually and have partner read it correctly and BTW ethically.

6. These situations constantly occur throughout the ACBL (and for that matter world wide) but are seldom policed except when good players indulge in that, they should be ashamed of themselves whether caught or not. Lesser players should be handled more delicately, but nevertheless it needs to be mentioned, otherwise they will continue to do it and kid themselves as being part of the game. BTW, it is not!

TedJanuary 9th, 2014 at 5:34 pm

At matchpoints where it is so important to take all your entitled tricks whether you beat the contract or not, I would read East’s echo as wanting the club ruff immediately before it went away. With that East hand you want a switch, so I would not expect East to echo.

bobby wolffJanuary 9th, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Hi Ted,

Your instincts are good and on target, but being ethical (and I suspect you are) requires playing in tempo to let the cards you play speak for themselves and not the tempo instead, used to play them.

Yes, playing high-level bridge is a tough task to master, but ethicality must always accompany top level playing, otherwise it is reduced to nothingness, besides, of course, to being illegal.

David WarheitJanuary 9th, 2014 at 8:43 pm

I would not have an ethical problem as E at trick 1. I always write in big letters on my convention card “We always hesitate at trick one”. And I and my partner always do so, to give both of us sufficient time to understand what each of us will need to do. And then, having paused long enough, I would do as Ted says and play the C4 at trick one. Assuming W then leads the HJ and we take our 3 heart tricks, I of course will return the C8. At this point it should be easy for W to see that a) I might have a doubleton club, and b) if I don’t, it almost certainly can’t hurt to play a third round of clubs.

bobby wolffJanuary 9th, 2014 at 10:39 pm

Hi David,

Yes, I would be willing to bet significant stakes that what you say and more importantly, what you do, is totally sincere and not to be compromised.

I, unfortunately, have heard that story before, of course, not involving you, but rather someone else who universally claims to be as circumspect as you, but, in fact, often plays quickly as the partner of the opening leader and because of whatever reason (likely because it is normal to play relatively quickly, unless, of course, one has a problem) to my knowledge has not encountered much, if any, challenges to his ethics, at least with the behavior mentioned.

With that as a backdrop I, as a long time player, wonder if it is indeed possible to maintain such 3rd seat discipline, so that partner will not pick up the possible difference in tempo, albeit small, which may from time to time (my guess often) accompany such a plan.

BTW, to do as you suggest will tend to give the 3rd seat player an advantage when say partner has led a small card and declarer then calls for an unsupported queen from dummy, when 3rd chair then hesitates before not covering he will be advantaged if, in fact he does have the king since his hesitation cannot by authorization from his CC be used against him for hesitating with an obvious play, if he, in fact did not possess the king.

Please understand, when you claim (from my fairly long time experience with you on our blogsite), that you play slowly 100% of the time as 3rd seat at trick one, I totally believe you, but such is not always the case with my other experience.

And so it goes. Yes, it is true that I was a proponent of not allowing odd and even signals (dual message signalling) to be used indiscriminately throughout the ACBL with no strictures since upon playing that method with many (mostly foreigners) during relatively lesser important tournaments during the 8 week Omar Sharif tour in 1970, I realized by my partner’s tempo so much more about his hand than I think I was legally entitled to know, my superior results defensively were totally indicative to me of undue advantage that I successfully campaigned to make certain phases of that treatment off limits to others. All I can say is that I almost never made an error in all the many defenses I had (with great players as my partner), but inwardly knew it wasn’t because of my wonderful judgment, it was only because of the illegal information my partner’s tempo provided me.

I advise you to continue playing as you now do, but are constantly on vigil not to abuse that practice. With you doing it I feel bridge is protected, something I would not feel comfortable about others.