Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

What is fame? An empty bubble;
Gold? A transient shining trouble.

James Grainger

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


When today's deal from the Dyspeptics Club was over, South grumbled that West's single high card had been enough to defeat his game. North, not usually a diplomat, answered that there was no way South could have made the contract, while East winked at him, understanding that this comment was more a reflection on South than the lie of the cards.

Against three no-trump West led the spade three, to the two, 10 and king. Had South ducked the first trick, the defenders would in turn have ducked the next spade and would have been poised to cash out.

South now took the simple approach by leading out the ace, king and another club, hoping that East would win the third round. But West could score his club jack and shoot back a second spade. That meant one down, when East cashed out his suit.

See the difference if declarer leads clubs twice from dummy. He has ample entries in hearts, so he crosses to dummy in that suit for the first club lead. If East plays low, South plays a club honor, then goes back to dummy in hearts for another club play. When the queen appears from East, declarer should allow this to hold — he has to lose a club trick anyway. East cannot advantageously attack spades from his side of the table, so the game comes home.

Note: If South plays the club ace at trick two, East must unblock his queen at once to prevent South’s avoidance play.

There is a place for subtlety, and a place for bidding what you think you can make. You could argue that a simple jump to three no-trump announces your hand's strength at once. Equally, there may be a case for doubling to show cards, then bidding no-trump at your next turn. The logic here would be to express less certainty about playing no-trump.


♠ Q 8 2
 A Q J 10
 A 9
♣ 10 8 4 2
South West North East
1 Pass
1 1♠ Pass 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


Iain ClimieFebruary 25th, 2014 at 9:31 am

Hi Bobby,

On BWTA, it is worth asking what partner would have rebid without the intervention but which has caused him to pass after it. He would presumably have raised hearts, rebid diamonds or introduced clubs if he could, while he might have rebid NT with a spade stop. He hasn’t doubled either so I reckon it looks like 12 or 13 pts, balanced with at best a sketchy spade holding e.g. Jxx. Does this seem accurate?



bobby wolffFebruary 25th, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Hi Iain,

Your analysis not only sounds accurate, but IMO can not be improved upon.

Partner will not hold 4 hearts, since even with a minimum hand he would have raised. Also, since so-called “free bids”, defined as minimums but sometimes distributional went out with the morning milk man, many years ago, and now, bid immediately to better describe an unbalanced hand rather than a pass which always should now only be a balanced minimum.

For more fuel to that conclusion, note East’s pass which nowadays would normally be not much in spade support , even king third and nothing else, and so this evidence combined, would render the bid of 3NT by South automatic.

For those perfectionists out there, please note that there is another way to 9 tricks for declarer, since East held specifically the KQJ of diamonds, therefore allowing declarer to play ace and one diamond and then another and produce his ninth trick with the lowly 10 of diamonds.

However, to suggest that this line of play is even to be considered is folly, although it never hurts to keep in mind such possible holdings, if nothing else remains to score up the game.

Peter PengFebruary 25th, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Dear Mr. Wolf

I have been reading about 1NT openings Non-vul as a pre-empt, particularly used by youngster experts in Europe.

Would this hand be a good example – every lead seems to give declarer a trick. But the reading I referred to said to open 1NT with 10-12 points NV.

Any experience playing pre-emptive 1NT?

A different question, without a ruffing value, do you sometimes call 3NT directly over 1NT, with points but a 4-3-3-3 or 3-4-3-3 hand, or do you always explore for the 4-4 fit

I have watched good players bid 3NT even hiding a major fit. Is this a losing proposition in the long run?


Florida Sunfish

Any comments on that

Peter PengFebruary 25th, 2014 at 2:57 pm

I meant for the 3 kings – one ace hand to open 1NT (south in the diagram, and presumably north in the quiz)

bobby wolffFebruary 25th, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Hi Peter,

Yes, sometimes a 10-12 NT opening, of course, announcing it to the opponents as such, can be preemptive and cause the opponents some discomfort in defending against it.

However, such an effort will come with a price, that glitch meaning that, if the opponents are wise, and their hands warrant it, it would be as appetizing to bridge sharks as schools of small fish are to real sharks.

When either playing such conventions (10-12 hcp, 1NT openings) or defending against them the NT bidders need to perfect their running from them to hopefully an 8+ card suit fit at the 2 level when the doubling starts and their opponents need to agree upon their meanings of doubles (whether penalty or takeout) when that bid is used against them.

IMO, the above fact will eventually determine who wins the day when those bids are used and after many years of club and higher level play, brings me to the conclusion that few pairs, while defending, are prepared, therefore lionizing the use against them.

To spring modern technology (although the use of those bids are not so new) on unwitting and unprepared opponents is sometimes like “shooting fish in a barrel” and needs to be regulated, otherwise our bridge games will be decided, not by accurate bidding, good play and defense, but rather by modern tactics like bridge poison gas and intentional surprise.

At some point, now years ago, 8-10 opening NT were allowed and so was fertilizer (an apt name) which was all opening bids showed fewer than 12 points and an original pass showed a good hand. Soon after, thanks to some clever and bridge loving administrators, regulations were established which forbade such unusual tactics, not because they were proved to be a better way to get to the right contract, but only because they were like allowing NASCAR participants to throw nails in the road for other cars to have to deal with.

Although there may be valid arguments on both sides to allow such weak NT and worse type “nothing” bids, the inexperience created by their opponents not being familiar with them, creates what some consider an undue advantage which added to the fierce tradition of our beloved game of no bridge poison gas, only normal preempts and occasional psychics, to which bridge has been vulnerable to for perhaps 80 years and therefore players will at the very least, have some way of being familiar with them and thus have a fighting chance to come out whole.

Peter, please keep in mind that others, particularly young players, have their own ideas, but let me recommend to them, and, of course, you, that bridge IMO is certainly the greatest card game ever invented and I will go so far as to include board and every other competitive game known up to now, because of its rules and traditions plus the unbelievable brain work which is necessary to excel in it.

At least to me, those who have the ability to be good, love the game the way it is, and the ones who do not have as much natural talent, love the barriers which prevent others from excelling. Obviously I may be biased, but even if I am it seems a shame to turn bridge into a “guessing game” instead of one which has stood the test of time as being a great and worthwhile learning experience which emphasizes logic and problem solving, two factors which are usually very valuable in just the leading of a successful life.

However, your question about the 3 kings and and ace is only dealing with a normal weak NT (12-14), a bid I often use myself but only when not vulnerable and is a combination of showing better than an average hand with some preemptive advantages, but nothing untoward such as the original discussion.

I am also inclined to not check for major suits when after partner opens 1NT and my hand is either 4-3-3-3 or 3-4-3-3. It doesn’t always work but the opening leads are usually on percentage softer for us (not as much information given to the opponents), and whenever there is a mirror distribution (the exact same in shape for the declarer’s side) the task of taking 9 tricks instead of 10 has its advantages.

All of the above is subject to argument, and although being aware of that, I have opened up my real thoughts to you.

Good luck! Your questions indicate a likely real love for the game which is always the starting point for a future expert.

Iain ClimieFebruary 25th, 2014 at 4:01 pm

Hi Bobby, Peter,

In my feckless youth (I’m 55 now) I used to play 10-12 nt throughout at pairs, sometimes getting into 1N xx with very varied results. I eventually realised that the results were overly random relative to playing more normal methods.


bobby wolffFebruary 25th, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Hi Iain,

Thank you for the benefit of your experience.

One thing I failed to mention is that if Harold Vanderbilt (or whoever was the key figure in establishing the scoring system for the new game of Contract Bridge in 1927) was on the scene now he would have increased the going set structure, perhaps doubling the amounts from 50-100 to 100-200 per trick (undoubled) which, at least to me, would have been a much fairer number to deal with, but, possibly because of the difficulty of changing the scoring rules which have been in place for so long, the powers which be, are reluctant to “fool around” with the distortion soon to be heard around the whole world, to so many players while attempting to right the wrong.

There have been a few very minor changes through the years, but even those took a while before bridge players settled in to accepting them.

Peter PengFebruary 28th, 2014 at 12:35 am

wow, Mr. Wolff, thank you for the very complete answer to my question; I have read it and re-read it, and I understand better now why in order to protect the game certain systems are not allowed. Other sports do that also, as in golf and baseball, certain artifacts of playing, signaling and equipment standards of construction and usage are in place. In golf, players who do not have the culture of the game, i.e. are golf players, but not golfers,
will do all sort of things in order to “win”. As an example, they may not play the ball as it lies, they may improve the lie. And not record a penalty shot. However, as their golf culture improves, they will understand that it is necessary to play the ball as it lies, and that a penalty must be paid by the “cheater”, whatever the reason for the infraction. Initially a partner will assess the penalty. Eventually the player self-penalizes himself a shot, e.g. he is playing alone and commits an infraction, and gives himself a penalty. Then a change happens, imperceptibly. The player will not improve the lie, and will play the ball as it lies. And last, the thought of doing something illegal will not even enter the player’s mind.

In other words, the game teaches what is SIN (any cheating), then REDEMPTION (self penalizing) and finally
a concept of PARADISE. To me that is LIBERTY (or FREEDOM) which, I define, is when the thought of cheating not even enters one mind.

I think that a great game would teach that kind of ethics every time one plays the game, and, to a large extent, bridge does.

Yes, improvements need to be made.

A small example.

As a C player, NLM (but very close), I am repelled by the intimidation practiced by A players, who for any reason will call the director. In my opinion, that should be regulated, as in the number of challenges a tennis player can make, for the digital replay to clarify.

Anyway, I sincerely appreciate your encouragement and the explanation of why certain practices are destructive.

I will certainly continue to learn from you, as much as I can.


bobby wolffFebruary 28th, 2014 at 5:25 am

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your comments.

Through the years bridge has had their share of cheaters, e.g. illegal and stealthy signalling, and probably (almost certainly) a certain number of them still practice their evil art, but many have been caught and processed out of tournament bridge.

The above includes almost all nationalities and novice players up to the very top in the world. The bad news is that there are some still active, but the good news is that there are enough bridge police the world over to likely know exactly who they are, but are waiting until the appropriate time when the evidence mounts and everyone will be satisfied that they are indeed cheating.

For some reason, almost certainly psychological there are too many bleeding hearts in top administrative bridge positions the world over who find it hard to believe that some players actually still cheat, but those people are better off fantasizing about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny than being the wishful thinkers they actually are.

Before I sign off, I have reread your letter and agree with you about the intimidation by more experienced players of calling the TD every time anyone (especially relatively new players) come close to stepping over the line.

The best TD’s will usually understand (unfortunately not always) that the director call might be to get something for nothing, a bad practice in any competition, and follow through by admonishing the TD callers for overstepping their bounds and warn them against continuing to use such tactics.

Like all forms of competition the referees and appeals committees play important parts in a clean and honorable game and bridge, of course, is no exception.

Good luck and continue your upward path to success.

Kind regards.