Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Well had the boding tremblers learned to trace
The day’s disasters in his morning face.

Oliver Goldsmith

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

*Invitational or better in spades


Today's deal sees one of the top pairs in the country with egg all over their faces. The deal comes from the Vanderbilt Trophy, the major knockout event of the Saint Louis Nationals last March.

Put yourself in West’s shoes. Because you haven’t agreed whether two no-trump over a possibly short opening bid of one club is for the red suits or the minors, you overcall one heart and find yourself defending four spades. The club king lead goes to the four, two and seven, with partner’s two being discouraging.

Accordingly, you shift to a low heart, which goes to the two in dummy, and declarer takes partner’s nine with the ace. Are you still thinking? Next, declarer leads the diamond ace, drawing the two, five and seven; then the diamond six comes next, and you follow with the three. Now what?

Whatever you do, it is too late. Declarer didn’t ruff the diamond six; instead he pitched dummy’s club to execute a Scissors Coup, cutting your communications with your partner. After the club discard from dummy, the heart ruff has disappeared. Your partner can win the spade ace, but cannot find a way back to your hand.

Contract made — and the author of the play described it as an immaterial coup. Why? Because at the other table his teammates had bid and made five diamonds with the East-West cards, to collect plus 600. As a consequence, even if the game had gone down, declarer would have gained a sizeable swing.

Your partner's double is not specifically for penalties. It suggests extra values and a balanced hand, not trump tricks, and in context (though you have your defensive tricks in your short suits); your spade void argues for bidding on. My best guess would be to bid five diamonds — though I admit you could easily be converting a plus score into a minus score.


♠  —
 J 8 6 4 3
 J 9 4 3 2
♣ A K 5
South West North East
1♠ Dbl. 3♠
4 4♠ Dbl. 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 ClimieApril 8th, 2014 at 11:40 am

Hi Bobby,

If east doubles 2H for the lead, the defence can get 4S (poss Xed) 2 off and it should be lead directional not support as 2S and heart raises are available instead. Nice play by an overly modest South – making 4S is not only a few more IMPs but psychologically very damaging to the opposition. Perhaps the result shows the pitfalls of over calling on bad suits – give west x AKJxx xxx 10xxx and east would be happy to defend; as it is the 10 card diamond fit just vanished.



jim2April 8th, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Ian –

If I doubled 2H, North would end up playing it and I would feel compelled to lead pard’s suit ….

Iain ClimieApril 8th, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Hi Jim2,

Hopefully south would rescue by bidding spades, but what if he redoubled intending to show spade support and north passed thinking the opposite? Yet I wonder if east can do more anyway. West surely has short spades and probably only 5 hearts on the bidding. Hence there is a minor suit fit of sorts. Maybe West should have bid 2N anyway, then decide whether to run or brazen it out if partner is doubled in a high level club contract. He could even have bid 1D on the basis that if partner has hearts, the oppo have spades in large numbers – decisions, decisions!


Iain ClimieApril 8th, 2014 at 2:53 pm

West could even pass, of course, although that won’t help here. Any thoughts here, Bobby?

Bobby WolffApril 8th, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Hi Iain & Jim2,

There is plenty of grist for the defending good bridge mill, even if West’s small carelessness (maybe not so, especially considering the consequences, defeating a game) is at risk.

About 25+ years ago (middle to late 1980’s and around the world), destructive bidding seemed to be the important topic of the era. By destructive, I am chiefly referring to a style involving ‘fertilizer’ (an aptly smelly name) which suggested that an original pass showed a good hand with all opening bids indicating weakness. However, sometimes specialized distribution which enabled partner to preempt early in the auction (always taking away their opponent’s bidding room) often became fatal to their opponent’s reaching their right contract.

In those early days, no doubt, it did have a negative effect on the pair with the lion’s share of the high cards because it was a surprise attack and the opponents did not have the time (nor the notice) to work out adequate defenses to such different styles. In light of that, ‘fertilizer’ was effective, but the WBF came to the rescue by discouraging such tactics, at least until the opponents had the opportunity to find the right remedy. BTW, after that time, and following some large world panel discussions at World Championship venues, plus specialized defenses worked out, fertilizer vanished, but not without plenty of controversy experienced. For bridge to be recognized for what it is, the greatest competitive mind game ever invented, its chief administrators, like the home offices for all the major sports around the world, must remain constantly on the alert to keep unwanted change (in the opinion of knowledgeable people) from diminishing the value of the sport.

All of the above is to establish a plug for West, on today’s hand, to jump to 2NT, after passing in spite of being vulnerable, in order to not miss a constructive fit in either red suit. The convention is described as Unusual NT with an immediate jump to 2NT over an opponent’s 1 of a suit opening bid showing length (at least 5-5) in the two lowest unbid suits.

If one questions the risk of such bids, experience seems to have shown that being able to show two 5 card (or longer) suits reduces the risk of a total misfit greatly. It enables that convention (or any other with two 5 card or longer suits named) to be at the partnership’s disposal and consequently, IMO, worth using as long as there is enough overall strength upon finding a fit. In today’s hand it is certainly fitting with the AK of clubs plus a void.

Also, Iain, as an afterthought, one’s double of a cue bid by his RHO is usually played as support for partner but not enough strength to go to the next higher level to show it. In other words, not just lead directional, but also some appropriate length (not shortness).

Bridge and its code language (bidding) needs to be thoroughly discussed before that would-be partnership, can satisfactorily cover all the loopholes always present.