Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

There are moments when everything goes well; don't be frightened, it won't last.

Jules Renard

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


North-South have a great fit here, together with a lot of controls, and it is easy to imagine that they might get bid to at least the five-level. Today, though, the secret is to stop at the four-level, then to play the hand carefully to come home with even 10 tricks.

A reasonable approach in four hearts is to win the club lead and take a diamond finesse. If the defenders play a second club, then declarer will ruff, draw trump, and play the diamond ace and another diamond. When that suit fails to break, he will ruff the fourth diamond in dummy and try to play spades for one loser. If that fails, declarer will go down and will doubtless consider himself unlucky.

However, it is possible to do much better than that. In fact, on careful play the contract is 100 percent guaranteed. After the club lead, declarer must win and ruff the club five in his hand. He now makes sure of 10 tricks by drawing trump in as many rounds as required, then playing the diamond ace and another diamond. When a defender wins that, he cannot play another diamond or it will set up a trick for declarer in that suit, nor can East shift to spades effectively. If declarer ducks the trick, West can win, but will be confronted with the same dilemma, since a ruff-sluff lets declarer ruff in hand and pitch a spade loser.

A simple call of two hearts would show extras, but not a hand this good. It feels right to cue-bid two diamonds, then bid three hearts. That should be natural and forcing, and help to get you to the right major-suit strain.


♠ A J 5
 A K Q J 9
 A Q 5 2
♣ 2
South West North East
1 Pass Pass
Dbl. Pass 1♠ 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 2014. If you are interested in reprinting The Aces on Bridge column, contact


jim2February 5th, 2014 at 12:25 pm

In BWTA, how should North respond to the two diamond cue bid with:


bobby wolffFebruary 5th, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Hi Jim2,

You ask a sophisticated question and deserve a thoughtful and thorough answer.

At least to me, North should then respond 2 spades, which denies values (0-4-) and although he might have 5 spades (about 50% of the time) he need not have. Then, of course, over partner’s 3 heart bid he should quickly and quietly pass. However, for example if North held s. 10xxxxx, h. xxx, d. xxx, c. x (or reversed minor suit holdings), my choice would be to jump to 3 spades instead of bidding only 2 since both the 6 card length (often worth as much as gold) and the likely hard working singleton, increase this sorry high card hand mightily. As an addendum to this paragraph, if the good hand (South) held instead: s. A, h. AKQJ9, d. AQxx, and elects to double 1 diamond originally (my choice to show the great strength, although the distribution is far from perfect) he should only now bid 2 hearts rather than cue bid once partner bids 1 spade. A caveat to always remember is to be consistent with showing distributional strength as the bidding transpires and cue bids (unless mammoth in hcps, 24+) should not randomly be offered, but rather implied, that the response has improved his hand.

The result (on the hand you chose), after a probable diamond lead would likely be down 1 unless, East had opened 1 diamond with a 4-4-3-2, which in that case would, after a normal diamond lead allow 9 tricks to be scored.

This type of layout only proves the kind of game bridge is and what is to be occasionally expected. Of course, it also only suggests how imperfect bridge bidding can become, but the really good (and experienced) player learns to hold his losses to a minimum when luck deserts him.

It would be (at least to me) a horrific mistake to offer 3 clubs, simply because those 4 mangy spades are not nearly good enough to rebid. However, 3 clubs would imply a likely 5-6 hcps and possibly 4 spades and 5 clubs. If partner did bid 3 clubs, I then prefer 3 NT by South, eschewing a 3 heart bid, to the “run for daylight” choice of a NT game.

Keep in mind that often a responder to a double rebids a 4 card major when partner responds with a very strong cue bid, since likely, perhaps over 50% of the time, will have 4+ cards in support of spades and is merely trying to calibrate level rather than strain.

An important bidding rule for us to always keep in mind is that “one’s hand never stays good nor bad, but should only be thought of as in relation to the previous bidding”. This realism then enables a weak hand to now differentiate between various not so good hands, but nevertheless distinguish the mediocre hands from those which are truly terrible.

Iain ClimieFebruary 5th, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Hi Bobby, Jim2,

A fascinating and gruesome bidding question from Jim2 although he’d probably pass 2D if he could see his partner’s hand. Other options include pretending to faint or claiming to be a card short. Ignoring my silly streak, and going back to the main column hand, would you expect the field in a fair or better pairs event all to go off?



jim2February 5th, 2014 at 7:48 pm

I inevitably hold something like that when my partners leap about with cue bids, doubles, and all manner of other bids that neither limit their hand nor describe it with natural bids.

One partner of mine reminds me before every session that all strange bids are forcing, and each time my reply is that he should temper his enthusiasm and ingenuity with the thought in mind that technically every bid is a contract to be played and that might be what happens.

Iain ClimieFebruary 5th, 2014 at 11:13 pm

Hi Jim2 (again),

One further thought on the hand you suggest (and from the strong hand’s viewpoint) – the oppo have nearly half the pack but are quiet, maybe too quiet. They could be lurking at the whetstone sharpening their axes but I suspect that the auction in BWTA is very unlikely for most cases. I accept that, like Macbeth and Voldemort, the theory whose name should not be spoken is after you again!

I can’t throw stones though – I had a hand written up by Andrew Robson praising my play and have being playing dreadfully since. At the moment I can’t buy a decent session! Still, Jeremy Flint once wrote that it happens to everyone so skip a couple of sessions and take wife or girlfriend to dinner instead.


bobby wolffFebruary 6th, 2014 at 1:38 am

Hi Iain,

My theory (not proven) is that some of the best bridge partnerships around continue to move up notches after they have dealt with adversity.

When each partner develops confidence in each other by exhibiting mature judgment while under stress is, at least to me, a proving ground for later success (provided, of course, that the talent and work ethic are also present). They each become role models to the other one.

In that particular hand I would expect most of the players to go set since, in spite of it happening in a good pair game, the winning line is antithetical to established declarer tactics. It is difficult for me to judge the right play in a pairs event since the overtrick lure can be irresistibly temptating

However, since defense, particularly the blind opening lead, is unpredictable some would be gifted the hand, although at IMPs, talented and par inspired declarers, will score it up in the prescribed manner.

bobby wolffFebruary 6th, 2014 at 1:42 am

Hi again Iain,

And if your luck continues to happen after Andy’s suggestion, take someone else’s wife or girlfriend to dinner. Let me know if you followed my advice, e.g if you have some unbroken bones left in your body.

bobby wolffFebruary 6th, 2014 at 1:45 am

Hi Jim2,

I would like to be a fly on the wall near your table when your opponents ask whether a bid made by your side is forcing. “Have not discussed it”, just isn’t good enough”!

jim2February 6th, 2014 at 3:25 am

When we get that question, I think our reply is something like we will work it out in the post-mortem and that we’ll let them know then.

Board 13 from the 2009 Slush Cup, N-S Vul:

———- North
——–S xxxx
——–H x
——–D xxxx
——–C xxxx

West ———— East
S Kx ———– S Q10x
H 10xxx —— H xxx
D KJxx——— D x
C AKx ———-C QJxxx

———- South
——–S AJx
——–H AKQJ9
——–D AQxx
——- C x

Partner doubled, cue bid, and pirouetted into three hearts. Minus-200 was tie for bottom.

bobby wolffFebruary 6th, 2014 at 5:51 am

Hi Jim2,

Your dreaded disease must be contagious since I was thinking that East was the diamond bidder and I had doubled with the South hand and then cue bid 2 diamonds over partner’s1 spade response continuing on to 3 hearts over partner’s return to 2 spades.

I may have done the same thing even if I had known who opened the bidding, but, of course, then I wouldn’t be as optimistic since my AQ of diamonds is miss positioned.

Another lost Slush Cup for me.

jim2February 6th, 2014 at 2:24 pm

“You look puzzled just now, but, of course, it is because you are a newcomer [to TOCM]. To those who know, it was clear, as soon as” I picked up a 21-point HCP hand with a solid suit that partner would be bare and that West behind would have any key cards missing.

“Do you know what happened to me last Thursday?”

(Page 20-21, B in the M)

bobby wolffFebruary 13th, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Hi Jim2,

I suspect you are quoting from Victor Mollo in “Bridge in the Menagerie”, but alas and alack I cannot find a copy of it, assuming I had one to start with, which I’m sure I had, but it probably got lost.

At the very least, you are deserving of the “Bridge Sportsman of the Year” award for continuing to play and write about a game which is obviously discriminating against you with that TOCM tm disease.

The only upside for you, is that you can plan safety plays against horrible breaks, even before you find out, the way everyone else does, at a later time.

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